AFL and FIFA must rethink concussion rules amid Paul McCrory plagiarism claims, expert says | Concussion in sports

A leading international concussion expert has said “everything Paul McCrory has touched” needs to be reviewed in the wake of plagiarism allegations against the Australia-based neurologist who has advised global sports organizations on the effects of concussions.

American neuroscientist and chief executive of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, Dr. Chris Nowinski, said McCrory’s advice to some sports organizations that participants in collision-based sports are not necessarily at risk of developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy was harmful and wrong. He accused McCrory of “spreading doubt” about the link between head impacts in sports and CTE in a way that has significantly hurt efforts to prevent another generation from developing the brain disease.

McCrory resigned as chairman of the Concussion in Sport Group in March following previous allegations of plagiarism in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. At the time, he was quoted on Retraction Watch as apologizing, saying that his failure to attribute third-party work was a mistake and “…not intentionally or intentionally”.

In the wake of those allegations, his work is also under investigation by the AFL – to whom he has provided years of research and advice – and is the subject of a separate investigation by the Australian Medical Regulator.

Now McCrory has been charged with 10 more cases of plagiarism, as revealed by Guardian Australia. He has not responded to repeated and detailed requests for comment.

McCrory was the lead author of four of the last five consensus statements on concussion in sport, from which FIFA and numerous other organizations draw their concussion guidelines and assessment protocols.

Nowinski told Guardian Australia that McCrory had convinced many people that the dangers of CTE were exaggerated. “Obviously he’s wrong, and that will take a long time to settle,” he said.

“Frankly, everything Paul McCrory has touched needs to be reopened. Everyone he advised should reopen what they did, every newspaper he was a part of should be looked at.”

Nowinski, a former American college football player and professional wrestler who was still experiencing symptoms of his last concussion 19 years ago, accused McCrory of misinterpreting and accordingly misrepresenting Boston University brain injury research during his lecture at the Florey Institute in 2016.

During that lecture, McCrory described concussion among NFL players as “exaggerated” and said that “the first myth [is] this idea that every hit causes some sort of brain damage; it’s patent nonsense.” He also referred to the survey’s finding that 4% of NFL retirees have had CTE and surmised that “the other way of looking at it is that 96% don’t understand.” CTE cannot be definitively diagnosed until autopsy.

“Unfortunately, I think Paul McCrory’s advice has done a lot of damage here. He is the chairman of the Concussion in Sport Group, which casts doubt on the link between head strikes and CTE when it has been accepted in boxing for 100 years.

“And if you really look at the science – like we did – there’s no room for discussion. There isn’t even another alternative hypothesis…if we don’t accept this link, we’re essentially condemning another generation to develop this disease.”

CTE is a neurodegenerative disorder associated with repeated head trauma. Symptoms experienced during life include cognitive impairment, impulsive behavior, depression, suicidal thoughts, short-term memory loss, and emotional instability.

In February, the Australian Sports Brain Bank reported that it had found CTE lesions in the brains of 12 of the 21 donors it had examined since the bank’s founding in 2018, including three under the age of 35.

In July, Nowinski was the lead author of a study that found compelling evidence that repeated headbutts can cause CTE. He was in Sydney earlier this month to launch the Australian branch of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, a multinational organization he co-founded in 2007, and a campaign called Stop Hitting Kids in the Head, calling for a tackle ban in the children’s sport up to the age of 14. The news follows that the English Football Association will test a ban on “heading” for children under 12.

“Our position is that we cannot find a possible reason for exposing children to CTE before age 14,” Nowinski said. “Whatever we think we’re teaching them through contact sports, we can find another way to do it.

“We’re trying to help people understand that whether you hit your own child in the head, or you let them tackle hundreds of times, their brains can’t tell the difference.”

McCrory did not respond to a request for comment.

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