Risks, Responsibilities and Protecting Your Head in Sports

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In most organized sports, even those played by amateur athletes, The annual registration fee contributes to all important measures.

May inject administrative funds into local clubs to support operations. You can help with coach salaries, buy equipment, pay affiliation fees to competitions and governing bodies, help with venue rent, pay for lighting, and more.

It’s also one of the things you should do (and most of these days you do) to contribute to the insurance policies of your club, league or governing body.

The insurance may help players manage their health by paying for a portion of the medical costs (imaging, medical appointments, etc.) for certain types of injuries, such as hamstring ruptures and fractures.

Professional athletes around the world are currently filing lawsuits against top sports organizations seeking compensation for chronic mental health and neurological conditions.

It may cover serious events such as permanent loss of function, paraplegia or quadriplegia, or even death.

But who pays for the long-term effects of neurodegenerative damage? are demonstrating that athletes are at increased risk of developing Professional athletes around the world are currently filing lawsuits against top sports organizations seeking compensation for chronic mental health and neurological conditions. In Australia, AFL players are suing in the Supreme Court of Victoria. Rugby players in England do the same.

In 2013, the American NFL reached a US$765 million settlement with thousands of former players who sued the league over head injuries.

For some, it suggests they may have CTE or other forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. For others, it is the development of mental health disorders that may be precursors to neurodegeneration.

For pros, rewards may result, at least for now

At the top level, the challenge for professional athletes seeking to claim damages for the way their injuries were treated is contextual and still exposes them to a series of barriers.

Context is important. The UK legal system handles claims differently than Australia. Then check if liability exists.

Although neurodegenerative injuries such as CTE can be predicted or predicted, true diagnosis is currently not possible without microscopic examination of brain tissue.

Ben Koh is a Doctor, Shine Lawyers Class Action Counsel and Emeritus Associate Professor at the University of Technology, Sydney. In general, he said challenges to liability claims related to athlete injuries could involve litigants proving that the rules or the club violated its duty of care. . The athlete does not voluntarily assume the risk of long-term nerve injury. and that the athlete’s participation and the conditions to which they were exposed caused or were the cause of long-term injuries.

And there is another problem. Although neurodegenerative injuries such as CTE can be predicted or predicted, true diagnosis is currently not possible without microscopic examination of brain tissue.

“The problem with CTE is that you can’t diagnose it until much later,” says Dr. Coe.

“Many symptoms are very vague until death and diagnosis of CTE. And there is no real or objective test for it.”

So, at least medically, proving how players were managed during their professional careers could be one of the challenges faced by class action lawsuits. That is, it is a matter of probability based on available information (such as symptoms) rather than the existence of confirmed symptoms. diagnose.

In Australia, professional athletes in the country’s top sporting regulations are basically given certain guarantees and protections against injuries sustained on the job through negotiations between athlete advocates and professional leagues and governing bodies. there is

“Your insurance is for the duration of the policy, usually after that, on average 18 months. So at the end of your career … you will be on your own again.”

Eric Windholz

“Collective bargaining agreements provide insurance and compensation schemes,” said Eric Windholz, senior lecturer in law at Monash University.

“And the generosity of these institutions varies with the richness of the sport: AFL and Australian cricket have pretty good coverage.

“As we move to part-time professional athletes, female athletes, and what I call elite athletes in marginalized Olympic sports, coverage diminishes.

“But even if I’m talking about AFL, Australian cricket, the insurance is on average 18 months for the duration of the contract and usually after that.

“So at the end of your career…you will be on your own again.”

For professional athletes whose job involves kicking, hitting, and throwing balls, or pedaling bicycles, driving cars at high speed, and riding horses, legal recourse is to compensate for the treatment of injuries. can be a method of claiming If, during your career as a player, your business insurance policy expires.

In the AFL, the West Coast Eagles have already moved to introduce expensive but broader coverage sports insurance for their players.report in age The paper also suggests that other member clubs are seeking to adopt such broad policies across their competitions to provide for players and protect employers.

Amateur athletes should protect themselves

“This insurance is not designed for longevity or potential long-term traumatic brain injuries, so if you are playing at the community level, or amateur level, your insurance is effectively private health insurance and Medicare. ,” says Windholtz.

He refers to insurance “coverage” that may be explained to participants when they sign up to play sports at the local level. Provision may be made for acute or chronic physical injury or a catastrophic event leading to permanent disability or death, but provision may be made for insidious diseases that may develop later, such as neurodegenerative diseases. It is not

Windholtz explains that this is a voluntary recreational activity, not a job. Athletes are in the same position as having an accident at home.

But prevention is better than cure, and with no cure in sight for a range of neurodegenerative diseases, scientists say universe He spoke to highlight the importance of sports and athletes taking precautions to avoid brain trauma.

“There is minimal, if any, coverage for loss of income or potential loss of income, but basically you are in a health care system managed by public and private health insurance. Not particularly.”

Australian health insurance is ‘community rated’. Unlike in other countries such as the United States, health insurers cannot “scrape off” a person’s medical history to increase premiums. Instead, consumers should use insurance, a tiered system introduced by the Morrison administration in 2019, for the coverage they need.

But prevention is better than cure, and with no cure in sight for a range of neurodegenerative diseases, scientists say universe He spoke to highlight the importance of sports and athletes taking precautions to avoid brain trauma.

A player heading the ball in a women's soccer match
Studies from Europe and the UK suggest that repeated impacts to the head, such as when heading a ball in soccer, may significantly increase the risk of long-term neurodegeneration. Credit: Skynesher/Getty Images

And while legal experts will also look to see what the outcome of a lawsuit taken in court will be, universe We also take the view that, for the most part, governing bodies and professional competitions are taking appropriate steps to address the growing concern of this issue.

A remaining challenge for science is the search for biomarkers and other indicators of neurodegenerative damage.

For those on the ground, there is at least one more significant unknown on their radar. It is the accumulation of subconcussive impact, a low-grade asymptomatic head impact, that over time leads to the development of her CTE.

Leon Harris is a clinical law educator at Sunshine Coast University. He previously worked as a lawyer and teacher at a US-based sports academy before returning to the legal world to study the legal implications of concussions in contact sports in Australia.

While he is encouraged by the steps governments are taking to reduce the risk of concussion, he remains concerned about the lack of steps to recognize sub-concussion impacts.

A man is sitting at a desk with a computer monitor and a book
Leon Harris, Sunshine Coast University Clinical Law Educator.Credit: Provided

By way of background, European and British studies suggest that repeated impacts to the head, such as when heading a ball in soccer, may significantly increase the risk of long-term neurodegeneration.

“I actually believe they’re doing a pretty good job. The information is out there and I think the public is aware of it,” Harris said of Australia’s current concussion protocol.

“But there is no mention of warning people if they are at risk of repeating these sub-concussive impacts throughout their playing career if they actually try to avoid it.” [of sub-concussive impacts] In the hundreds of pages of submissions to the Senate inquiry … it’s not talked about at all. “

This may not be unreasonable, as there is very little data available to track player careers. But now, with emerging knowledge of sub-concussion risks, especially those associated with CTE, sports organizations at all levels are considering the question of how to protect themselves from potential future damage claims. there is a possibility.

A remaining challenge for science is the search for biomarkers and other indicators of neurodegenerative damage.

However, the risks of playing competitive sports, such as being tackled, falling to the ground, going for the ball, riding horses, etc., are well known, and if participants accept them, their responsibility is at least It may fade to some extent.

“Most people know concussions are bad, but did you know that the risk of subconcussion injuries that accumulate over time can lead to brain disease? So you could argue that there is an obligation to warn of risk,” Harris said.

“The problem will only grow if the sporting world doesn’t admit it, perhaps for fear of losing numbers at the amateur and junior levels. It’s a difficult problem for sports governing bodies, but it needs to be addressed.

“If the risks were more widely known, everyone would be free to accept or decline the option to play. No one wants less people to do it.

“But certainly we should be made aware of the risks.”

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