Response to Craig story shows rugby has matured
WHEN dealing with delicate matters like mental health there is always an element of nervousness about striking the right tone. It was pleasing, then, to receive messages from both James Craig, the former Scotland rugby winger, and his father Jim, the Lisbon Lion, saying they had been delighted with the response received to James’ revelations of the damage done to him by playing rugby.
It would seem that the reaction has been decidedly better than that from some of the sport’s administrators to former Herald man John Beattie’s investigation of the subject in his BBC Panorama programme, broadcast just ahead of the recent World Cup.
One social media message in particular stuck in the craw, seeking to suggest rugby has done better than other sports in looking after its players and that the timing of the programme had been unhelpful.
It was, of course, the ideal time to be examining the issue, when the eyes of the world were upon the sport.
The tournament itself was a joyous celebration of all that is good about rugby, from good little ’uns beating good big ’uns on the first weekend as Japan shocked the Springboks, to a magnificent final which was adorned by the sport’s two greatest players bowing out in the best possible style, and then that wonderful Sonny Bill Williams moment, when he gave his winners’ medal to an over-excited youngster who had been treated a little too harshly by a security guard.
However, there were also reminders during it, notably when Dan Biggar remonstrated with those leading him off the field during Wales’ quarter-final defeat and when Matt Giteau similarly attempted to persuade his team’s management to let him return to the fray during the final, that the participants sometimes have to be protected from themselves.
In the explanations that followed there was evidence that important lessons are at last being learned, Biggar explaining that his reaction had come in the heat of the moment and that he should have paid more attention to the medics, while Michael Cheika, Australia’s head coach, was to admit that he had received “a gobful” from Giteau at half-time but that his hands had been tied by the medical instructions issued.
The truth is that elite rugby players are brave individuals full of self-belief who take the view that their team’s chances will be reduced if they are forced to leave the field. But those players are beginning to understand properly the implications of such injuries, while those managing them are beginning to understand properly their responsibilities.
It has not always been so and rugby has taken rather too long to address a culture in which pressure, whether direct or through insinuation, was applied to players considered to have been injured too often with challenges to ‘man up’ or other such idiotically machismo phraseology which I have heard used by sportswomen as well as men.
As was most recently obvious in the case of the head injuries suffered by Biggar’s Wales team-mate George North and the outrage generated, there remains, unfairly or otherwise, an impression that medics are placed under the wrong kind of pressure by coaches and managers, as well as the players themselves, to offer clearance when they should not.
The implications for the sport could yet be vast given what has happened in American Football where the NFL have had to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars in settling a class action lawsuit brought by former players who have suffered serious problems as a result of their head injuries.
Just as it did to take the field and run flat out into collisions with much bigger men, it took great courage for James Craig to speak up as he has. His motivation was to warn others of the potential consequences of not getting, or ignoring, the right medical advice.
Others may yet take matters further and while the sports lover in me largely hopes otherwise, the shock of listening to the tale of a lad I remember as a rare talent when he emerged on the Scottish rugby scene, outweighs such considerations.
AND ANOTHER THING
Little Chloe, the next generation of the Craig family, was overheard recently in meaningful discussion with one of her primary one classmates who was keen on football when she offered one of those observations that was so profound it could only have come from one so young.
“My granpa used to be a famous footballer with Celtic,” she told him. “. . . but now he’s just a granpa.”
It is helpful to be reminded that as super-human as the feats of our sportspeople may sometimes seem – and the nature of that European Cup win by a homegrown team remains mind-boggling when considering the relative resources the likes of Inter Milan and Manchester United could muster even then – they are just flesh and blood like the rest of us.
There are those who feel Celtic could have done, and could still be doing, more for the men who transformed their club’s status in the international arena, but that is moot whereas there seems little doubt that more recent generations of rugby players should have been better looked after by those who have benefited from their efforts.
TOMORROW Susan Egelstaff
ONCE FAMOUS: Lisbon Lion Jim Craig in his heyday – now he’s “just a granpa”