Scottish Daily Mail
I know lots of players in the same situation... there’s been a failure in duty of care
IT’S mid-morning in the office of John Shaw’s scaffolding business in Coatbridge. His desk isn’t particularly cluttered but in the middle of it sits an A4 notepad. He keeps an abundant supply of them in his top drawer.
In these days of computers and smartphones, the writing paper looks a bit of an anachronism but for the former Glasgow Warriors flanker, it is his lifeline.
Shaw even has to use it to help him remember and then spell out the names of his family members. As I ask his wife’s name, he has to write every letter of ‘Theresa’ down as he says it.
‘Since my mind started to go, everything I do I write down straight away because if I don’t I won’t remember,’ said the 52-year-old, who played professionally at Glasgow f rom 1996 to 2000 alongside the likes of former Scotland captain Gordon Bulloch.
‘I try to get on with my y business and personal life as best I can but I am always beavering g away with notepads s and constantly y writing things s down. That is my y fallback. What t happened there? I’ll ll go and check my y books. Where am I supposed to be? I’ll ll check my books.
‘If y ou have a physical problem, m, people can see it but ut when it is in your ur mind and brain, it is frustrating as people le s ometimes c a n’ ’t t understand why I am m so slow and forgetful ful at times.
‘It is a frustrating ng way to exist. Some me days I will be good, d, some days bad. Some days I am nearly on the edge, some days it is as if nothing has happened at all.’
The following day at his home in Airdrie, he asks Sportsmail’s photographer if he wants a cup of tea twice in five minutes. As Shaw gets his picture taken, he gazes into the distance a couple of times and seems to forget where the camera is.
This is what life is like for Shaw, who still looks in terrific physical shape, but has a mind that he believes has been badly affected by the head knocks he picked up during his rugby career.
A class action for compensation against World Rugby and the English and Welsh unions has been raised by several former players, including former England 2003 World Cup winner Steve Thompson who has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.
As Sportsmail reveals today, there are ten Scots ready to join the legal action which, in their case, would be against World Rugby and also the SRU. Shaw admits he has been in contact and believes there are many Scots in the same position as him.
He is currently being tested for early onset dementia and believes t he memory l oss t hat has disrupted his life can be linked to rugby concussions.
‘I am going through numerous tests just now and that is ongoing,’ he said. ‘I am in the same position of the other guys, and you know the group I am talking about. Neurological tests, evaluations, other things. There are many questions to be answered.
‘I have been in contact with a lot of players in a very similar situation that are within the group and we all understand what each other is going through and we all are going through a process just now. We are there to support each other and there are things simmering along with me.
‘I am fine with the higher-profile players starting the l egal action but i t does not matter what level you played and who you represented as head knocks and concussions can affect anybo anybody in the game. I can assure you it is not the end of the matter.
‘We are all the same in that we picked up the same head injuries, the same traumas with the same long-term effects. This is not just about high- level elite players where these issues are happening. It is at all levels in the game throughout the world.
‘I know all these chaps. They are this special group of players in the same situation. I understand where they are coming from and why they are doing it.
‘I believe it is the right course for these guys and anybody else in future to take these actions. We need to highlight this and make the game safer and people more accountable.
‘Players are not just commodities or a figure of entertainment. There is a duty of care to us, to all players, from their employers. There is a failure on that I feel. A failure of duty. There has to be a way of getting it resolved in
some manner.’ When asked how many head knocks he received, Shaw admits he can’t remember much about his playing career...
‘I remember getting a few but people tell me there were lots and I take their word for it as I can’t remember,’ he said.
‘As for my rugby career, I have to look at old newspaper cuttings. I know I played for Glasgow at the start of the professional era but that i s about it. Sometimes reading about my games jogs my memory a bit but not for long.
‘I played at seven and put my head where most people would not put their hands or feet. I had head trauma, similar to the stuff Steve Thompson mentioned. I took all my strong feelings and emotions out on the pitch. That unfortunately is what put me in danger.
‘The issue was how it was dealt with, the after care. In those days, it was the bravado involved. Okay, you have a head knock but there is some smelling salts and on you go. Let’s make sure he is fit for the next game. Looking back, that was wrong but it wasn’t wrong at the time. It was common.
‘I would not change what I got out of rugby and what I put into rugby but in hindsight we have been guinea pigs for future generations to make the game safer. Hopefully the failures of the past can help people improve it in the future.’
Shaw remains thankful that he can continue working at his business although things have had to change there, too.
‘I enjoy what I do and have a good business here but what happened to me with head injuries is not just affecting me in my personal l i fe but also my business life, too,’ he said.
‘Over the years, I used to have a decent-sized business with around 50 employees in it but I have had to reduce to 18 now. I can manage that and provide a very good service for my clients.
‘I can control it at that level but only because my wife has been fantastic and my family, too, and I could not have done it without them. My sons are also in the business and that helps a lot.’