Dr. Bennet Omalu: ‘Rugby could be removed from mainstream culture’

Dr. Benett Omalu believes the future of rugby is in peril if the sport’s governing bodies do not reach a settlement with former players suing over head injuries.

Dr. Omalu is an expert on brain injuries and is most well known for discovering chronic traumatic encephalopathy, causing a major scandal in American football.

A movie was created about Dr. Omalu’s discovery and it’s consequences for American football called Concussion (2015) where he was played by Will Smith.

In 2011, former professional American football players successfully sued the National Football League, winning a settlement of about 1$ billion (roughly €800 million).

The Nigerian-born doctor believes that rugby’s governing bodies should also pay out former players who are suffering from brain injuries sustained when playing the sport.

“The sports leagues knew that playing these games would cause brain damage. But like in everything, people were not asking questions, they were brushed underneath the carpet.

“I think some leagues historically placed the need to make money, they placed their business interests over the humanity of their business, which I have problems with.

“[Rugby should settle with former players], just like NFL in the United States settled with the players.

“They chose a specific type, every player beginning from this time backwards, we will pay you a compensation but moving forward, everybody now knows that playing football is dangerous, you play at your own risk. So I think the same should apply to rugby.

“Moving backwards you need to go to the players and settle. What my proposition is, the league should have a certain percentage of their profits for their retired players, say 10% ad infinitum, so that they use that money to compensate the retired players for the risk of brain injury,” Dr. Omalu told the BBC.

‘The league should settle with the players’

Former players such as Steve Thompson and Alix Popham have shared their struggles with early-onset demetia in recent weeks, with many saying they were unaware of the damage their brains were sustaining.

The treatement and knowledge of concussion has improved in the sport since Thompson and Popham’s playing days but Dr. Omalu thinks that more can still be done to educate players.

“The league should settle with the players and then should make it categorically clear.

“What I’ve suggested is that beginning of every league there should be a one or two-hour lecture educating the players on the risk of brain damage.

“You need to celebrate these truths. If you don’t do that, I bet you that it’s only a matter of time until rugby will gradually be removed from mainstream culture. It is not a sustainable business model to continue living in a lie,” Dr. Omalu said.

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