Is Rugby League Caught Up In A Mental Health Epidemic It Isn't Aware Of?
Unfortunately, mental health is one of the greatest stigmas surrounding Rugby League at this present moment in time, whether you acknowledge it or not. From players having 'career breaks' to wide spread drug abuse, the symptoms are there, but unfortunately the doctor isn't at their desk.
What gets left unnoticed for so long can result in the destruction of players lives, whether that be their careers or themselves. No more so than the great Terry Newton taking his own life as a result of mental health issues due to a consequential ban for growth hormone back in 2010.
Drug use within Rugby League is one of those very symptoms. Both Super League and NRL haven't been shy of a scandal in the past 12 months with Salford new recruit Manu Vatuvai and friend Conrad Hurrell admitting that they mixed a concoction of pain killers and energy drinks during his time at NZ Warriors, with also previous legends such as Andrew Johns admitting to the Herald Sun of his "12 year drug hell" where he opened up about his misuse of pain killers, amongst other issues, throughout his playing career.
Other issues such as the doping scandal which has rocked the NRL and Australian Rules Football for many years are still seeing players/coaches receiving lengthy bans for performing enhancement misuse. Needless to say I am going to point out the obvious for Super League; Rangi Chase hitting the headlines 24 hours ago, but if you include the likes of Gareth Hock, Terry Newton, Martin Gleeson, Luke Douglas, Anthony Tupou for example then you can see that Rangi Chase is only a drop in the ocean for the tidal wave that is about to hit Rugby League.
I can hear you all say now, 'Yeah but he did it too himself', which I agree is true, but it is our collective problem as a sport and let me tell you why. Merchandise sales with 'Chase 7' will no longer be needed, sponsorship for either Widnes/Rugby League as a collective will dry up as sponsors not wanting to associate themselves with the sport which has a consequence of dried up revenue which is seeing clubs falling from the fringes (Bradford, Wakefield etc) from the loss of revenue our sport collectively looses as a whole, the collective shame Rugby League inherits as a result of the ban and most of all nobody wants a repeat of what happened with Terry Newton, not even Rangi's worst enemies.
Despite the active campaigning from charities such as 'State of Mind', mixed in with the positive test results and the destruction of players careers, it isn't enough to deter any professionals playing devils advocate with their own careers, so if it isn't what is the RFL actually doing to help stop the wide spread endemic sweeping our sport?
Having watched Hollywood movies such as "Concussion" staring Will Smith as a Doctor performing autopsies on American Football stars with an advanced form of Alzheimer's with the American Footballers having earlier signs of depression in the lead up to the development of Alzheimer's, which was a consequence of having far too many blows to the head. I can tell you that you're not going to like what I have to say.
The question of head protection MUST be addressed by the RFL as a very minimum. I know this wouldn't address the brain moving within the skull, which is the action you are trying to limit as a player is receiving blows, but it will limit the blow impact to an individual which is what we are trying to achieve.
If the RFL were smart enough, they would mimic Rugby Union and launch an "IRB" style certification system where they sell to companies their certifications/endorsement of products and generate more financing, which in turn could provide heavily subsidised protection to all players.
Another point which will go down like a lead balloon as people think that professionals already have the answer for this but it needs to be said; players diets needs to be addressed immediately! Netflix documentaries such as "Forks over Knives" and "Food Choices" provide a fantastic insight into depression and our choice of foods promoting a "whole foods lifestyle".
As a player of over 20 years myself, my physical and mental well being improved once I supplemented food for my mind, instead of my body. After all, you'd think providing food that gets the best out of a players mind instead of targeting food that gets the best out of their bodies is the only logical solution? Especially when you consider how powerful the mind truly is!
Of course Rugby League has many issues to address, but still provides enjoyment and recreation on all ages and levels. Targeting players at a very young age is what is key for the RFL from stopping the widespread issues of drug use becoming an all out infection within our game. Hopefully, the Doctor's prescription provides the cure to the health of our beautiful sport.