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'We need to take it seriously': What is CTE and how is it affecting Australian sport?

3 minute read

Brain Injury

Sports like football, League or Union are far more than just ‘contact sports.’ They can be dangerous games with people potentially running headfirst into each other, colliding against kilos of muscle, over and over again. A broken nose here, a knock to the head and maybe a concussion or two… injury is certainly not uncommon on a football field. However, there’s a hidden injury lurking in the scrums that many Australians have overlooked. Chronic Trauma Encephalophagy – or ‘CTE’ – is a very real disease that’s slowly destroying the brains of our professional and community sports stars, and the worst part is we can’t diagnose it until it’s too late.

What is CTE (Chronic Trauma Encephalopathy)?

Chronic Trauma Encephalopathy (CTE) is a neurodegenerative disease that can only be diagnosed after a person has died and an autopsy on the brain is performed. CTE in the brain is caused by repetitive head trauma, which often occurs in contact sports. A hard knock to the head can cause the brain to bounce around and twist inside the skull and the rapid motion can cause a mild traumatic brain injury known as a ‘concussion. ’Whilst a concussion might not seem uncommon in the world of sport, repeated concussions can result in lasting structural changes to the brain, causing a traumatic brain injury and subsequently CTE.

What sport has the most CTE cases?

Contact sports have been found to be the leading cause of CTE, particularly sports like football, AFL, hockey and boxing. The connection between CTE and football was first made in America after a study was done on former National Football League (NFL) players, with 99% of those tested showing signs of CTE. After years of pounding tackles and head knocks, it may come as no surprise that a human brain would suffer, but what is a surprise is the delayed acknowledgement and acceptance of CTE as a serious disease – particularly in Australia.

How do you know you have CTE?

Symptoms of CTE are like that of other neurodegenerative diseases such as Dementia and Alzheimer’s. The first signs often begin long after the person has their last head knock and can include:

  • Loss of memory

  • Confusion or flawed judgement

  • Changes in mood, personality, and behaviour

  • Mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and actions

Traumatic brain injuries can be difficult to identify and therefore, easy to dismiss. Often diagnosis comes too late in the degeneration of the person and that’s why it’s important to know the signs and seek the right advice, even if you’re unsure.

CTE parliamentary inquiry announced

On Thursday, December 1, 2022, the Senate announced a Parliamentary inquiry amid growing concerns for CTE and football in Australia. The inquiry will examine the long-term effects of concussion and repeated head trauma at all levels of contact sports – not just professional players but the community as well.

With an increasing number of Australian sports players showing signs of CTE, most recently the shocking death of St Kilda AFL player, Danny Frawley in 2019, our head trauma team welcomed the inquiry with open arms.

After years of representing clients with traumatic brain injuries and tireless campaigning to bring awareness to CTE in Australia, our team of legal experts say it’s time we started taking CTE seriously.

The inquiry continues with the final report due to the Senate by 21 June 2023.

What to do if think you or someone you know is suffering from CTE

Symptoms can be subtle, but if you or someone you know doesn’t seem right, they could be suffering from an unknown traumatic brain injury, and getting the right legal advice, as soon as possible, is important.

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