Roberts says he has brain damage

Former rugby league player Ian Roberts has predicted the ‘‘end of contact sport’’ after being diagnosed with brain damage he believes is the result of being knocked out up to a dozen times in his playing career.

Roberts, who played for South Sydney, Manly, North Queensland, NSW and Australia during his career, was told he had  returned ‘‘abnormal’’ results after agreeing to undergo testing on his brain as part of a study into the effects of concussion on players in Australia’s football codes.

‘‘I’ve got brain damage  ...  that’s the nuts and bolts of it mate,’’ Roberts told Fairfax Media’s Peter FitzSimons during an interview on Channel Seven’s Sunday Night program. However, Roberts said he was not surprised by his test results and revealed he had been suffering depression.

‘‘It’s not comfortable knowing that,’’ Roberts said. ‘‘But I have got to tell you, Fitzy, I came here expecting to hear that.’’

The program was a follow-up to one FitzSimons, who is leading a campaign about the dangers of concussion, filmed with Sunday Night last year that featured AFL great Greg Williams and former North Queensland forward Shaun Valentine. Since then, 40 former players have undergone testing at Melbourne’s Deakin University and Dr Alan Pearce said 35 of them showed signs of brain damage.

Asked by FitzSimons to recount how many times he had been knocked out on the field, Roberts estimated: ‘‘I would say probably about 10 to a dozen.’’

Admitting that it was ‘‘totally naive’’ to think he could play the way he did and come away totally unscathed, Roberts said the concussion issue was set to have a massive effect on the NRL, AFL and Australian Rugby Union.

‘‘It’s quite possibly the beginning of the end of contact sport, like hard contact sport,’’ Roberts said.

‘‘You know I was ignorant to just how severe the research and the medical evidence that has been gathered has become. That’s why I’m interested in seeing what happens with the results in Melbourne,’’ he said.

Dr Pearce said he could not say exactly how badly Roberts was affected without drilling into his brain but comparing his data from tests he was ‘‘outside the range of our healthy comparisons’’.

‘‘So it seems to be that multiple concussions are affecting a certain pathway of the brain that can lead to a number of different things, and what we’re seeing here is abnormal,’’ Dr Pearce told Roberts.

Roberts, who is now an actor, said he had been increasingly becoming aware of the effects of memory loss and depression.

‘‘You know when you are 25 at the top of your game, you know you’re 10 foot [tall] and bulletproof,’’ Roberts said.

‘‘I’m 48 at the moment and when you have those lapses I have to check myself, and I’m like ‘oh, why can’t I remember that’, or ‘am I remembering that rightly?’

‘‘I’ve been acting now for 10 years, studying lines and that kind of thing. One day you have it down and then the next day you’re like, I have just lost all that info again.’’

The NRL, AFL and the ARU have all implemented new concussion guidelines aimed at protecting the health  of players, but Roberts believes it may not be enough.

‘‘Every tackle is a head knock and when you do 30 to 40 tackles a game and you’ve played like 200 games, that’s a lot of football [and] that’s a lot of knocks,’’ he said.

‘‘For every day you play you’ve had that moment  ... in the game where your head is dinged, and you’ve felt that shake basically every game you’ve ever played.’’

The story Roberts says he has brain damage first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop