Admission of concussion link has ramifications for rugby.

If World Rugby and New Zealand Rugby ever needed a case study on how to handle the issue of concussion and the long-term impact of head knocks, then may I present the NFL.

This week, NFL health and safety policy senior vice-president Jeff Miller, the man tasked with discussing the issue of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and the links to the deaths of 100 former NFL players, met with members from the United States House of Representatives.

When asked if there was a link between football and degenerative brain disorders such as CTE, Miller replied: "The answer to that is certainly, yes."

This story is undoubtedly sad and, as Dylan Cleaver's article in the Herald on Monday said, full of "long goodbyes".


Concussions in contact sport are a risk and common, but the NFL, until this week, was still fighting former players who sued the league for not doing enough about head knocks when they played.

To the NFL's credit, albeit not a lot, the league has opened itself up to the research and science of the issue that is hard to pin down once a player retires. But only very recently.

The only way to find out is when a player donates their brain to medical science in the hope that it leads to a better understanding of what happens to players when concussed, as former San Diego, Miami and New England linebacker Junior Seau did.

Seau, who played 20 years in the NFL, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest in 2012 aged 43. A study of his brain concluded he suffered from CTE.

Miller's admission this week is pivotal, after the tens of millions of dollars the NFL has spent trying to reassure parents that the sport is safe for their kids.

New Zealand Rugby will no doubt be watching how this unfolds and taken advice on how to deal with the way players are currently assessed and what the implications are for them after they retire.

As NZR chief executive Steve Tew noted on Thursday, it is a tricky situation.

"It is a complicated issue and even the highly skilled and trained medical professionals cannot give you a definitive answer on a whole load of really important questions," Tew said.

"Right now, our responsibility is the current game and making sure we do the right thing for the players who are playing now both at the community and professional level.

"While we will never say enough is enough, I am really comfortable that we are working really, really hard in that regard."

The NFL is fighting with what can only be termed deniable-driven semantics with the former players. Resistant to an admission of a link between football and CTE, and stressing that there's risk in everyday life, the NFL has fought through the courts and defended its position in a way which can only be deemed careless and ignorant towards previous generations of players.

It is opening itself up to claims, lawsuits and litigation but that's its responsibility. Now it must face overwhelming scientific evidence for what has been recorded only anecdotally for decades.

In New Zealand and world rugby, the change has begun, but for most, it hasn't come quickly enough. But given the protocols the game now has, there is a generation of players who can be protected; who can be monitored and rested for appropriate lengths of time to recover and, if need be, give away the game they love.

For former NFL players like Seau who donated their brains to science, the research is serving their sport.

Here, it is no doubt being closely watched by those tasked with protecting the players but also the game. At least it's a start.