ANY GIVEN MONDAY
It's been a head-spinning kind of week, excuse the pun.
Over the weekend I published a series of articles focusing on the latest research and arguments about chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Included in the series was a first-person piece that traversed my involvement in reporting on head injuries in sport, and how my thinking on the subject had evolved to the point where I believe the negatives of allowing pre-teens to play contact sport outweighed positives.
There was some strong, predictable reaction, most, if I'd be so bold to suggest, coming from people who hadn't read the piece. I'll admit a dirty secret: often I don't get beyond the subject line when sending emails to 'trash' but every so often I'll open the gates to e-hell.
This is probably my favourite, if only for the sensitive use of asterisks, which were the author's, not mine: "What experts say this? Liberal ones is my guess. Absolute rubbish. Guess what if you aren't ready for some knocks in life you ain't ready for
life. Harden the f*** up."
That's fine, you're welcome to have a say; I'll probably just stick to listening to people who have worked their lives in this field if that's OK with you?
Just to clarify a few points that might have got lost along this long and winding road.
1. It isn't a call to ban rugby and league for juniors, it's a call to extend the non-contact grades to 12-year-olds. And you know what? In sports that are desperately trying, and largely failing, to hold on to boys playing the game, it just might be beneficial in the long run.
2. It isn't about wrapping kids in cotton wool, or for those trying to move into the 21st century, bubble wrap. It is an acknowledgement that there's no such thing as a safe head knock and, between the ages of eight and 13, the dangers these knocks are more than likely compounded by the fact it is when the most crucial neurodevelopment takes place.
3. It isn't necessarily about concussion (although we all realise now, surely, that concussion is not good). It is possible – many would say probable – that it is the cumulative effect of subconcussive hits to the head that cause the real problems; the ones you don't even notice from the sidelines and the player themselves are probably only vaguely aware are happening.
4. There is evidence, as NZ Rugby's chief of medical Dr Ian Murphy said, that the rates of concussions among kids playing rugby is negligible. It is also true that the forces involved in eight-year-olds playing tackle sport are low. I am not disputing this. Please refer to point 3.
Even armed with more knowledge, you can disagree with my conclusion that the risk isn't worth it, and I'm totally down with that.
As I said in the piece, my thinking has evolved on what is a thorny, emotive subject. It will no doubt continue to bend and shift.
To that end, if you can convince me that there's a health benefit in putting kids in organised situations where they're prone to taking the sort of hits, even small ones, that will cause their rapidly forming brains to rattle around inside their skulls, then I'm all ears.
Will Young might be the unluckiest/most poorly managed talent in New Zealand cricket's recent history. Take your pick.
It seems like a lifetime ago when he was talked up as The Next Big Thing of New Zealand batting. Now he's deep into his 27th year, has yet to be capped for New Zealand in any format and is about to undergo shoulder surgery that could see him miss up to nine months of cricket (plus the inherent uncertainty that comes with form and fitness post-surgery).
First the bad luck.
He happens to be a stroke-making, right-handed top-order player in an era when New Zealand has their greatest No 3-4 combination in Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor. He was unlucky not to replace an injured Taylor for the home series against Australia in 2016. The left-handed Henry Nicholls got the nod and has gone on to forge a very useful career at No 5. He was crazy unlucky not to replace an injured Taylor for the following year's home series against South Africa. For reasons that were iffy, 33-year-old Neil Broom was chosen.
Young was finally set to make his test debut this year against Bangladesh but his opportunity disappeared with the mosque attacks in Christchurch.
Then there's poor management.
It's crazy dumb that Young was not given an opportunity to fight for a place on the World Cup squad. Plenty of knowledgeable cricket folk were saying this BEFORE he scored 130, 111 and 60 in successive knocks against a decent Australian attack last week. New Zealand have played 71 bilateral ODIs since the last World Cup – Young should have played 10-15 of those.
It was ill-advised, also, to make him captain of Central Districts at just 22. He was by all accounts excellent in the role, but this was a time he should have been concentrating on nothing more than being the best batsman he could be. At 25 he realised this and handed the reins back.
Young will in all likelihood be 28 before he makes his Black Caps debut. He could do worse than look to a former Central Districts right-hander for inspiration. Andrew Jones was 27 when he made his debut for New Zealand. He retired eight years later with a test average of 44.27.
More tales of the decline of club rugby, this time from good, keen southern man Sam Casey.
"The club competition down here used to be very good quality, now we have clubs that have been powerhouses for years, struggling to field decent Premier 1 sides. What do Otago do about it? Well, they're more than happy to green light 12 quality players to go over to Singapore [to play in the Global Rapid rugby competition]. So you've got a union with a struggling player base and a poor quality competition, happy to send a dozen of the competition's best players to a circus that is Rapid Rugby.
"All Blacks can't skip Super Rugby to play in Japan and come back for All Blacks? Super Rugby players can't skip Mitre 10 Cup and come back for Super Rugby? Why should Mitre 10 Cup players be allowed to skip club footy and come back and play Mitre 10 Cup?"
That, Mr Casey, is a very good question.
THE MONDAY LONG READ ...
This is a clever piece of analysis into the phenomenon of English football by the Guardian's Barney Ronay. Clue: It's not as English as it may seem.
It's an extract, but it's enjoyable enough and makes me want to know more about the Mongolian Derby, even if I don't necessarily feel the urge to know more about Lara Prior-Palmer. From longreads.com