Doctors treating the former England and St Helens prop James Graham are concerned by “dark spots” which have shown up on a recent brain scan and are believed to be the result of repetitive head trauma.
The 37-year-old, who says he endured more than 100 concussions and 18,000 collisions during his career, has undergone a series of tests since his retirement. He says he had performed well on a neuropsychological exam, but a new MRI scan has been less positive.
“The MRI scan of the brain shows some dark spots on there, which are of concern to my doctor and my neurologist,” he said. “And then also there’s an area of the brain that the volume is in the bottom three percentile of where it should be, which they believe is likely linked to repetitive head trauma.”
The news comes after a law firm confirmed it would this week send a letter of claim to the Rugby Football League on behalf of a group of former professional and semi-professional players, alleging the governing body failed to take reasonable action to protect players from permanent brain injury.
The group includes the former pros Francis Maloney and Bobbie Goulding, who have been diagnosed with early-onset dementia. Graham, who is not part of the group, has previously stated his intention to donate his brain for scientific research when he dies. He said he had not been given a definitive diagnosis based on the MRI scan, and that he would be subjected to regular monitoring.
“I’m not naive enough to think that the game that I played, in the way I played it, I’m not going to pay a price for that,” the 37-year-old said. “So actually, for me to have this knowledge it gives me greater motivation in order to keep up with some of the changes that I’ve made in my life. I try and stack the odds in my favour for better future health outcomes.”
Graham has long campaigned to make his sport safer. He believes collisions in children’s grassroots rugby must be carefully policed, former players should be given the tools to be able to keep track of their brain health and that current players must be protected – in some instances from themselves.
“I don’t have any regrets about the way I played. I was a product of my environment. It used to be worn as a badge of honour to be concussed or knocked out and get up and carry on. It was [seen as] courageous, brave, tough, all the attributes of the warrior-style mentality, continuing on and not wanting to leave the field under any circumstances. I think there needs to be a culture shift and environmental shift.”