The NRL’s Chief Medical Officer Should Be Supporting The Use Of Headgear, Not Deriding it!

If I was running the Australian Rugby League Commission today I would have called NRL chief medical officer Ron Muratore into my office today and fired him on the spot.

Making Rugby League as safe a sport as it can possibly be has been one of the major goals of every Rugby League administration going back to the early 1980’s. Before that time violence on the football field was common place and it was starting to get to a point where it had become out of control. Players would actively target their opposition with punches and old fashioned clothesline tackles and there wasn’t too many consiquenses for their actions, it was just seen as part of the game.

Eventually administrators realised they needed to do something about it, and they started handing out very heavy suspension. The result of this is that in 2012, we rarely ever see a player deliberately go out with the thought that they are going to knock another players head off their shoulders. Target them in a big tackle? Yes. However the days of running in from a players blind side and knocking him unconcious haven’t been around for decades now.

I’ve already written about the NRL’s push to eradicate shoulder charges and why I believe it is misguided. The main reason I feel this is because, when a player gets hit in the head these days, it is not deliberate. It happens because of poor timing and a bit of bad luck. In fact, if you think about most head high tackles these days, how many of them occur because a player is falling towards the ground and they just get clipped by a stray around that was only ever intended to wrap them up in a ball and all tackle? Hell, I would take a guess that most serious concussions happen these days to defenders anyway!

Which leads me to Ron Muratore…

On the weekend when Cronulla’ Sharks center Ben Pomeroy hit North Queensland Cowboys halfback Jonathan Thurston late, and possibly high, many credited Thurstons headgear for saving him from a more serious concussion. This prompted Ron Muratore to go out of his way to contact the Sydney Morniong Herald and make the claim that headgear does not protect a player against concussion. He went on to say that all headgear did was protect a player from laccerations to the scalp and in what has to be one of the most damaging things I’ve ever heard any official say about the game, he claimed that kids that wore headgear were no more protected than kids that did not and the headgear actually gave them a false sense of security!

I’m sorry but this man should be fired.

First of all, is it really his job to talk to the media on behalf of the entire game of Rugby League? There are people are the ARL and NRL who are paid to represent the sport and contact the media when they need to convey a message. That is not Ron Muratore.

Now maybe he was asked to say something by his superiours at the NRL, but that leads me to my next point….

Headgear is one of the few things a player can wear to protect themselves in a game. I used to wear one. In a lot of junior competitions it is compulsary. They protect you and they work.

When was the last time you saw a player in headgear knocked out?

Rugby League officials at every single level should be pushing the use of headgear. It shouldn’t be made compulsary over a certain age, but I will say this….if the NRL came out and made it compulsary for every player in the game to wear it….I wouldn’t find that to be such a bad idea. I’ve been saying for a while now that I believe Rugby League forwards in particular will soon be wearing soft padding under their jerseys simply to reduce the risk of soft tissue damage and sternum injuries. Safety in the game is something I am always concerned about.

For parents of young kids that want to play Rugby League, knowing they can buy their son or daughter a mouth guard and head gear is a relief. Anything they can do to reduce the already small injury risk at that level is a great thing.

For the NRL’s chief medical officer to come out and say what he said…it is one of the most damaging statements an official has made about the game in a very long time.

Jonathan Thurston has credited his headgear for saving him from a broken jaw. This is a peice of protective equipment the NRL’s chief medical officer should be supporting 100%!

There will be many Rugby League coaches and officials who will be shaking their heads today at Ron Muratore’s comments. I’ve no doubt that he meant no harm but them, but they are so counter productive to the push for safety in Rugby League.

The sooner people within the NRL accept that the NRL competition is the most extreme form of the sport, the better. What happens on an NRL field in terms of injury rates has no connection at all with what happens in the amateur levels of the game.

For a medical official to make sweeping generalizations about safety in the sport based on what we see at NRL level is completely ridiculous. If wearing head gear stops one kid from being concussed because it allows a head impact to be cushions just slightly or even slip so that it is a glancing contact, then the use of headgear should be supported, not written off like it is some type of preemptive placebo!

If anything this shows the that National Rugby League is long overdue for some strong leadership.

Update: I thought I’d better add this because I think some people are getting the wrong impression about what I have said.

I want to make it clear that my problem is that the NRL’s chief medical officer come out and wrote off the use of headgear so quickly. It is the wrong message for him to be putting out there, especially at a time where the game is trying to look for every single way it can to prevent injuries of every kind.

If he had come out and said studies of Rugby League players at all levels had shown headgear did not reduce the risk of concussions, but did reduce the risk of other injuries such as cuts, broken bones and other soft tissue injuries, and then emphatically pushed the use of headgear for players at all levels, I’d have had no drama’s at all with what he said.

In his role he has a responsibility to relentlessly push the use of all protective equipment. In my opinion his comments to the Sydney Morning Herald were counterproductive to the push to use protective equipment. Surely that push is part of his role in the very high position he holds within the NRL.

Link: Headgear Won’t Stop Concussion

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