Sexton ‘frustrated’ at constant emphasis on his head injuries
Insurance issues around concussions raise questions over players’ rights
Johnny Sexton: “I know the truth and the doctors that work with me know the truth and that’s the main thing.” Photograph: Oisín Keniry/Inpho
Rugby Players Ireland, which represents the interests of players throughout the country, ran a piece in its magazine regarding data protection.
It discussed what information should be made available to the public and what should fall under the Data Protection Act.
It prompted questions surrounding player injuries, what details should be placed in the public domain and what aspects of medical files are players entitled to keep between themselves and team doctors, basic protections to which we are all entitled.
Jamie Heaslip has repeatedly declined to elaborate on the exact nature of his back injury. There are many who believe he has a right to do that.
But because of the speculative nature of the media and how it interfaces with rugby, injuries are discussed every week, often accurately reported. Occasionally the nature and seriousness of the problem is misrepresented.
On Tuesday an irritated Johnny Sexton continued on that theme as questions inevitably turned towards head injuries. Since a doctor in Parisian club Racing ’92, recommended in 2014 that he take three months off, the issue has stayed with him and has begun to complicate his life, perhaps unfairly.
“I have had plenty of bangs on the head. But I’ve probably had two or three concussions,” he explained. It was widely reported four.
“But you talk about me on concussion and it goes hand in hand. It is very frustrating for me because it’s not true and also because we’ve got insurance companies we’ve got to talk to that don’t believe that I don’t get concussions. It can be pretty tricky.
“What happened in France was very precautionary. I don’t know how many times I have to talk about this... I picked up one bad and two mild knocks and this guy says: ‘look, you’ve had a few knocks to the head over the course of a few months and normally the protocol is that you take some time off’.
“He said: ‘I recommend that you do that.’ They have signed up in France that this doctor makes all the calls. Look, I argued it tooth and nail.
“I was actually fine after two or three weeks and I suppose I’ve been stuck with this stigma of concussion being attached to me when I have probably had maybe two or three ever in my career.”
It is not the first time the Irish outhalf has expressed concern about being singled out. The issue was exacerbated recently following a misunderstanding between Sexton and Irish coach Joe Schmidt.
Schmidt said on television that Sexton had passed a Head Injury Assessment (HIA) during the match in Dublin against Exeter. However, he had not.
“Look, I can take part of the blame for that because I spoke with Joe after the game and told him that I was fine, that I was a bit shook by the initial contact but that I passed all my questions,” says Sexton.
“But we thought it was best not to go back on the pitch because of how I felt on the pitch.
“I just got it on the soft part of my head. Was I concussed? No, probably not. But was it the right decision not to put me back out? Probably. Yeah, because I was probably startled by the collision.
“I know the truth and the doctors that work with me know the truth and that’s the main thing,” he adds.
One question is whether Sexton’s personal information should be up for grabs anyway. Should it be discussed by people who have never met him or spoken with his doctors. And why should he feel obligated to come back again and again to clarify the facts.
It has all occurred, he says, after everybody entirely missed the most severe concussion of his career.
“One of my worst ones ever was about ten years ago,” he says, “It was probably my only really bad one. I made the tackle, got up and literally no one would have known. But the guys beside me knew, I was calling calls that didn’t exist and arguing they were right.”
He says his tackling is high to hold up the ball. But, he adds, people get knocks when they go low and as he is tall, is dubious about whether tackling low is any solution.
“I saw one over the weekend, a guy goes low and gets a knee in the head,” he says. “I don’t buy it fully. Could I go low? I’ve gone low before, but often in that channel it’s about trying to stop the ball and I’m a tall guy . . . so I don’t generally have a great position when I go low.”
High or low isn’t the issue and ultimately credible doctors will decide. The question is becoming whether we have any right to ask him. As he says, the insurance companies will do that.