Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Dana Johannsen: New test for school of hard knocks

Contact sport is her to stay but attitudes towards injuries needs to change. Photo / Getty Images
Contact sport is her to stay but attitudes towards injuries needs to change. Photo / Getty Images

If a massive cultural shift is what is needed to tackle sport's concussion crisis, then it's not just up to coaches and administrators to make that happen.

The sobering research coming out of the US that has found repeated head knocks in NFL players may cause lifelong neurological problems - highlighted in the Herald's special report this week - should make us all reflect on our own attitudes to head injuries in sport.

There seems to be widespread nonchalance when it comes to the issue.

Some say, just like Sonny Bill Williams-fatigue (also known as So Bloody What?) and Lindsay Lohan's failing career, the media are to blame.

Or at least, according to research undertaken by Massey University, play a part in reinforcing a casual attitude to head injuries.

The study, conducted by former psychology student Natasha Bauer during last year's Rugby World Cup as part of her clinical psychology dissertation, involved watching the television coverage of all 48 games of the tournament.

Bauer noted the commentators tended to downplay the possible effects of head knocks on players by describing such incidents through jokes and colloquial expressions.

How often do you hear commentators refer to a player wobbling around "like a drunken rhino" and being "knocked for six" or, in an allusion to the symptoms following an on-field clash, "wonder how many sets of goal posts he's looking at now?" while their sidekicks chuckle along?

Those tired cliches have become just as outdated in their sentiment.

Then there are the television segments like Smashed'Em Bro, which, with the assistance of slow-motion replay, celebrate brutality.

There's nothing wrong with celebrating a great tackle, but there is something a little bit sadistic in applauding a hit that injures.

It's the old watching-motorsport-to-see-the-crashes syndrome; ferocious hits are an integral part of the entertainment package.

Leaving it all out on the field is what we expect of our footy stars. Perhaps we need to tweak our attitude slightly to "leave it all out on the field fellas, except your brain cells".

Too often we see professional rugby and league players receive a blow to the head, stumble around a bit, get a drink of water from the trainer, shake it off and carry on.

When kids see their heroes playing on when they are obviously affected by a head knock, they think they're being courageous; what they need to think is that they're being stupid.

There is no way children are going to stop playing contact sports, nor should they - the rough and tumble of games is an important part of being a kid.

Contact sport is here to stay, but our attitude towards head/brain injuries needs to change.

Everyone with a stake in these sports, from the games' marketers to media to fans, has a role to play in reinforcing the point that concussion is no laughing matter.

- NZ Herald

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Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Dana has more than a decade's experience in sports journalism, joining the Herald in 2007 following stints with TVNZ and RadioSport. Over that time Dana has covered several major events including the 2011 Netball World Cup in Singapore, 2011 Rugby World Cup, 2012-13 Volvo Ocean Race, and the 34th America’s Cup in San Francisco. A multi-award winning journalist, Dana was named New Zealand Sports Journalist of the Year in 2012 after scooping both the news and feature categories at the TP McLean Awards. The previous year she picked up the prize for best news break. She was also an inaugural recipient of the Sir John Wells scholarship at the 2009 NZSJA awards. Dana also writes a weekly sports column for the NZ Herald.

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