By now most rugby supporters are aware of the recent interviews that Jamie Cudmore has given regarding the concussions he received in May 2015 during the European Cup final versus the Saracens. Jamie went down with knocks not once but twice in that final. He wasn't aware at the time that it was potentially life threatening. As a player he just wanted to do his part to ensure the cup win.
Post-season, he dealt with the symptoms of Post Concussion Syndrome, fighting to get past it so he could continue to play the game he loves. Luckily, Rugby Canada was incredibly supportive and helped Jamie Cudmore during this dark time. As they were in the process of developing their own Play Smart program, it was a natural pairing that Jamie should become their player ambassador. This is a role of which Jamie is very proud.
With the recent press pitting Cudmore v Clermont, whereby they claim that Jamie exaggerates that they did not do all they could to make sure that the lock would be taken care of, the Cudmores - both Jamie and wife Jennifer - have endured their share of criticism.
What few know is that actually, the Cudmores have been working on their plan to create a Foundation for concussion education and awareness for more than a year. But now with the release of the Rugby Safety Network and the subsequent publicity it's garnering, the inevitable criticism plaguing Jamie and Jennifer has only strengthened both their resolve and that of those who stand firmly with them.
Remaining positive can be challenging amidst cries of traitor after Jamie put his health on the line and his heart into Clermont for a decade. Yet there are many positives for the Cudmores to reflect on, even though it is still early days in the Foundation’s formation.
With the press surrounding the issue, Jamie finds himself backed by a likely sporting ally; professional hockey.
Former National Hockey League star Ryane Clowe has put his personal support behind Jamie, as he was forced to retire early from hockey due to ongoing post-concussion issues.
Ryane's concussion story mirrors Jamie’s experience closely, in that Ryane experienced many of the same symptoms that Jamie did. But his team experience was what made the difference for him:
“In the summer of 2013, I signed a lucrative five-year contract with the New Jersey Devils. It was a risk for the Devils to take a chance on me knowing I had missed time in the prior season with concussions. I was feeling back to my normal self and wanted to prove to them that they made the right decision signing me. Unfortunately, over the next two seasons I sustained multiple concussions and was forced to retire before the start of the 2015-2016 season. My two seasons in New Jersey were a very dark time for me.
After every concussion I sustained, the recovery time would be greater. I would spend most of the first couple months post-concussion sleeping because of severe fatigue. Every time I would get out of bed it would feel like each leg weighed 200lbs. I had headaches, pain behind my eyes and severe neck pain.
Even though those physical elements were very challenging to deal with, I think the hardest part was the emotional issues. Anxiety, depression, sadness and irritability really hit me hard.
Athletes take a tremendous amount of pride in their performance, so not being able to play and live up to my contract was and is something that stills eats me up inside to this day. Fortunately for me, the New Jersey Devils organization treated me unbelievably well through the whole process. Lou Lameraillo always put Ryane Clowe the person before the player. I never felt any internal pressure to come back and play. If anything I was the one pushing them to let me play.”
AHL winger Paul Bissonnette, formerly of the Phoenix Coyotes, has experienced knocks, but he's seen teammates suffer the more dramatic effects of concussion. He knows how slow recovery can be, and how frustrating for players who want to get back at it. While he's suffered injuries and had his share of rehab, he hasn't missed too much ice time due to concussion. But he knows how it feels, and he commends the Cudmores for the hard task ahead of them.
Professional hockey seems to be worlds ahead of rugby in their treatment of concussion, and this is where rugby can take a page from hockey to put players first, and to insist from the top-most levels on compliance across the board. Inevitably, this is the goal of the Rugby Safety Network, and the point that Jamie and Jennifer Cudmore are trying to make. Ryane concurs:
“Hockey – like Rugby – is a high speed, high impact sport. I believe NHL players and teams have become very progressive in their approach to dealing with concussion. If a player shows any signs of concussion-related symptoms during a game, he is pulled from the game immediately and the majority of the time doesn't return.
I believe organizations like the Cudmore’s Rugby Safety Network are imperative to bring awareness and change the mindset of how concussions are being treated, as well as helping those who have been affected. Kids today need to understand, just like a sprained ankle or broken wrist, concussions need proper recovery time.”
Canada's star player Sidney Crosby is currently out as the 2016 NHL season begins due to a recent return of concussion symptoms: no official timeline has been given for his return. The NHL is taking it very seriously, as Crosby has been plagued by concussion throughout his career, some of them leaving him on the sidelines for months at a time.
Pundits and fans alike wonder if concussion will end his career, as it did former player Eric Lindros, who coincidentally supports Rugby's move toward concussion reform and education, as he stood with Canadian Members of Parliament to get Rowan's Law passed (Rowan Stringer was a former rugby player and captain, who at 17 succumbed to second impact syndrome and died).
These are definitely trying times for Jamie and Jennifer Cudmore, but positive steps are being taken every day toward something that will inevitably benefit the entire world of rugby, as has already been acheived in the hockey world.
The eventual goal is for rugby to have rules that are enforced and willingly followed across all levels of rugby and in all countries. We are getting closer, but as evidenced in recent weeks and months, there is still more to do.
The Cudmores don’t wish to alienate anyone; teammates, supporters, nations. They simply feel that it’s time someone who’s been hurt and afraid of what those injuries could mean for the future stood up to say that it’s not alright. It’s not alright for the big bear of the team, and it’s not alright for a young person in a local club either.
They are very appreciative of hockey allies Ryane Clowe and Paul Bissonnette for vocally supporting their initiative, and to Eric Lindros for putting his considerable popularity behind Canadian MP's, Rugby Canada, and the Stringer family to get Rowan's Law passed to protect players.
The road ahead for Jennifer and Jamie Cudmore may be long, but they aren’t shying away from it. As he recently said to me: “we have to be clear, direct and unwavering in our mission moving forward.”
- K. Gasbarino-Knutt, Media Relations Officer, Rugby Safety Network firstname.lastname@example.org