26 Aug 2018

All Black Ryan Crotty's concussion crisis sparks calls to quit

From Mediawatch, 9:10 am on 26 August 2018

Millions of viewers saw All Black Ryan Crotty get knocked out - again - in last weekend’s test against the Wallabies. A bandwagon to retire him was soon rolling, propelled by the media.

Ryan Crotty leaves the field after another head knock.

Ryan Crotty leaves the field after another head knock. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Last Monday the news that looking up your ailments online can be helpful made headlines around the world, including here.  

“Dr Google works,” Mike Hosking told his listeners on Newstalk ZB.

But he was less impressed with the armchair diagnoses of those who saw All Black Ryan Crotty knocked out - for the sixth time in less than 18 months - live on TV last weekend.

“I have read with a moderate amount of surprise, if not alarm, the work of people this week who have literally no knowledge of Crotty's specific plight. No medical expertise, no understanding even of concussion, and have yet decided they are best placed to tell him what to do next,” he told listeners.

On Radio Live’s Sunday Sport show host Andrew Gourdie said alarm about Ryan Crotty was amplified not only by his history of head knocks, but also by how viewers saw it on TV.

“They used spidercam to get right in over the top and zoom straight in on this guy who is clearly vulnerable with his eyes rolling into the back of his head. I don't need to see that,” he said.

Those who did couldn’t un-see it, including Ryan Crotty’s sister.

"I know how frustrated he will be but for selfish reasons I want to see my brother grow old and able, not battling the brain forever," Shea Crotty said on Twitter - sparking several news stories online.

TV's spidercam gives viewers a chilling angle on Ryan Crotty's condition.

TV's spidercam gives viewers a chilling angle on Ryan Crotty's condition. Photo: screenshot / Sky Sports

Shea Crotty insisted she wasn’t urging her brother to quit rugby but a media bandwagon to retire Ryan Crotty was already rolling.

Stuff’s senior sports Writer Duncan Johnstone said Ryan Crotty should call it quits.

“Someone had to say it. So there it is, as painful as it is. I'm no medical expert so this call comes without any relevant paperwork to back it up,” he wrote.

Soon after The Herald’s Christopher Reive wrote a similar piece:

“For his own wellbeing, the All Blacks brains trust have the power to make the decision for him – simply stop selecting him in the match day 23,” he said

Callers to talkback radio overwhelmingly agreed. One urged Newstalk ZB listeners to to simulate Ryan Crotty’s head knock by putting a ripe tomato in a glass flagon full of boiling water, let it sit for a while until soft and then shake it vigourously from side to side from side  

But NZ-born England international Shontayne Hape who retired after 20 concussions told Radio Sport he wasn’t sure what Ryan Crotty should do. Likewise sports medicine expert Dr Stephen Kara.  

TVNZ’s Sports reporter Guy Heveldt said everyone should take a breath.

Former All Black coach Laurie Mains told Radio Live it wasn't taken seriously in the 1990s and it the media and social media focus on it now was "probably a good thing"

But Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking reckoned that - unlike the nurses  and teachers who he has advised lately - Ryan Crotty’s job is none of his business - or ours.

Mike Hosking tells us to butt out of Crotty's career.

Mike Hosking tells us to butt out of Crotty's career. Photo: screensnot / Newstalk ZB

"Amateurs with no experience, knowledge, or any level of expertise at all, feel it's okay to wander on in with advice, direction and instruction," he said.

"Good opinion is generally built on detail, fact, experience, knowledge, wisdom, insight, and some research. There has been scant evidence of any of that in the diagnosis via media of the Crotty case," he added

(That didn't stop Mike Hosking the next day telling the White Sticks women to toughen up over their dispute with their coaching, even though he said he was was just hockey fan and not an insider.)

One journalist who really can comment on concussion with some authority is New Zealand Herald’s Dylan Cleaver.

In his award-winning multi-media project last year, the Longest Goodbye, Mr Cleaver found several former Taranaki players, now in their seventies struggling, with dementia.

Dylan Cleaver's award-winning multi-media investigation of rugby and dementia.

u Photo: screenshot

He went to meet experts in concussion in the US where it is a huge issue in sport - for and financial and legal reasons as well as medical and social ones.  

"The outpouring of concern over Crotty's health is unfair on him and more than likely counterproductive," he wrote in the Herald last Wednesday.  

He said Ryan Crotty is an adult who can - given the right advice - weigh up the risks himself, much as boxers and racing drivers do.  

Something to bear in mind the next time a top rugby player hits the deck - and pundits try to retire them on the spot.