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‘It was an easy decision’: Jamie Soward will donate his brain for concussion research

Concussions used to be worn as a badge of honour.

Players who had their bell rung in a violent collision but stayed on the park were lauded for their toughness, despite not remembering the game.

That’s the way it was. There’s no blame to apportion, we simply didn’t know any better.

We know better now. We know that a single concussion can cause irreparable damage to the brain, and we know that repeated concussions can cause Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative brain disease found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma, often athletes.

Last week, researchers announced an Australian first, that CTE had been found in the brains of two former NRL players, both of whom had played more than 150 first grade games.

The discovery shocked the Rugby League community and has compelled a string of current and former players, including Peter Sterling, Mark ‘Spud’ Carrol, James Graham, and now Jamie Soward to assist with further concussion research by donating their brains to science.

“I spoke to my wife over the weekend and I got in contact with Chris Levy, he’s a consultant to the NRL for head injuries, he’s going to send some papers out and I’m going to be a part of that movement,” Soward said on Macquarie Sports Radio.

“It was an easy decision and I made it off the back of thinking if I could contribute something to make our game safer, to invite more people to be able to play, women, boys, girls off the back of a little bit of research,

“We understand when we sign up to play these contact sports that injuries are going to happen, we’re going to have collisions but if you can help with some of the side effects after football, to help counter that, so for me it was an easy decision,”

Soward retired from Rugby League at the end of 2016 after a lengthy career which spanned 232 first grade games and says he worries about the long term effects of concussion on him and his peers, citing one particularly worrying example which afflicted him after his career had transitioned into the media.

“I got knocked out in 2015 by Jack Wighton in the second last round, didn’t play the last round after failing the concussion [tests],

“I suffered from headaches and stuff like that for a couple of months, I couldn’t be in bright spaces, and when I retired I started getting migraines which was weird because I’d never had a migraine in my life,”

“I was commentating at Manly Oval one day, my wife had picked me up and we were driving home and we pulled over to the side of the road, I was spewing profusely, I couldn’t explain anything, I had headaches and a migraine, I’d been hydrated that day and I’d eaten enough… we were pretty close to going to the hospital,

“You see a guy like Peter Sterling, one of the greats, who played in an age where you’d get knocked out and you just keep playing. I played in an era that didn’t have the concussion tests and you did just get the smelling salts at times.”

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