“If you ask the question that way, the answer is no. You don’t let kids bang their head against the wall all day long until they develop CTE.
“We have to have a discussion about what age is reasonable to allow kids to be exposed to this risk.”
Nowinski has been keeping an eye on the concussion protocols used in Australian contact sports and believes more could be done. The Harvard graduate says an extra player should be allowed to substitute for those suspected of copping a head knock.
“It’s cruel to the players to force them to get substandard medical care that will put their lives at risk just because you don’t want to change the sub rules,” he said.
“For everyone who says the rules could be taken advantage of, they’re looking at it the wrong way.
“You can choose to deal with the reality of ruining a player’s career or killing them by leaving them in when you shouldn’t, or you could choose to police if someone takes advantage of that and punish that.
“Punishing them is easier than dealing with a broken player. Concussion substitutions is the easiest decision ever.”
Nowinski believes independent doctors, rather than those with ties to particular teams, are best placed to make a call on players during game day. He added that sporting administrators should be transparent and inform the public if a team has breached the concussion protocols.
“I think the players would be better served by independent doctors,” he said.
“That’s not being disrespectful to the team doctor. The way the NFL runs it, they both evaluate the player and both have to agree to put the player back.
“Ninety-nine per cent of the time they agree, but sometimes they don’t. That can save a player’s life.”
Asked if codes such as the NRL should again publicise sanctions if teams break concussion protocols, he said:
“Those were good old days. The first reason is it’s an opportunity to educate the public on how to handle concussions.
“If players are being mishandled on the field and there is no correction of that later on in admitting there was a mistake, parents, coaches and kids will get the wrong impression of what proper concussion care looks like.
“It’s up to the professional leagues as the model. From a doctor’s perspective, no one wants to get called out for making a mistake.
But with that being said, if they are not prepared to take that heat, then maybe they shouldn’t be in that position.
“It’s not fair to say there is no drawback if they mishandle someone’s care, (because) you put them in risk of serious illness through brain disease.”
Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.