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Repeated Head Injuries in Australia’s Collision Sports Highlight Ethical and Evidential Gaps in Concussion Management Policies

Abstract

Head injuries (including concussion) are an inherent risk of participating in the major collision sports played in Australia (rugby league, rugby union and Australian Rules football). Protocols introduced by the governing bodies of these sports are ostensibly designed to improve player safety but do not prevent players suffering from repeated concussions. There is evidence that repeated traumatic brain injuries increase the risk of developing a number of long term problems but scientific and popular debates have largely focused on whether there is a causal link between concussion and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). We argue that the governing bodies of collision sports played in Australia have used uncertainty about CTE to justify a “wait and see” approach instead of attempting to prevent repeated head injuries. This stance is difficult to defend when these governing bodies claim to give a high priority to protecting player welfare.

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Acknowledgments

Thanks to Dr Lynley Anderson and Dr Andrew Gardner for providing useful insights, feedback and suggestions on this paper. Brad Partridge is supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship (2011–2014).

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Correspondence to Brad Partridge.

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Partridge, B., Hall, W. Repeated Head Injuries in Australia’s Collision Sports Highlight Ethical and Evidential Gaps in Concussion Management Policies. Neuroethics 8, 39–45 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12152-014-9217-0

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Keywords

  • Concussion
  • Chronic traumatic encephalopathy
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Rugby league
  • Australian Rules football
  • Rugby union