A university rugby player died last month after suffering brain and spinal injuries during a match in Queensland. Halley Appleby, 21, died in hospital on July 18 – two days after being tackled during a match in Brisbane. Catriona Arthy, the trainer of Appleby’s team, described the incident as being a “one in a billion freak event.”

Just two months earlier, alarm bells were sounded for contact sports following the release of the findings into a study of the brain of Dave Duerson.

Duerson, a former NFL player, committed suicide at age 50 in February this year and requested that his brain be examined by Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (Traumatic Encephalopathy is a degenerative disease in those who have suffered multiple head injuries or concussions).

Explaining the damage done to Duerson’s brain, neuropathologist Dr Ann McKee was quoted by the Guardian as saying ‘‘I would assume that with this amount of damage the person was very cognitively impaired. I would assume they were demented, had substantial problems with their speech and gait, that this person was Parkinsonian, was slow to speak and walk, if he could walk at all.’’

Contact Sports and Inherent Risk

In November, 2010, following the paralysis of a football player and the death of an amateur boxer, #*IT Happens discussed how the higher inherent risks presented to athletes in contact sports can lead to potential legal liability and brand risk.

Our key message was that in most sports, athlete health and well-being is the primary aim, and the rules are created with this aim in mind. It is pivotal that all rules regarding safety in sport are regularly reviewed and adjusted to take into account the latest research.

We watch with interest to see whether the Duerson findings have any impact on NFL or other high contact football codes.