Billy Slater of the Storm is carried off after being knocked out against the Raiders.
Billy Slater of the Storm is carried off after being knocked out against the Raiders. MICK TSIKAS

'There are some that are really struggling with life'

THE troubling KO of Billy Slater and another set of frightening statistics from the NFL has put concussion back on the radar this week - and NRL great Matty Johns isn't afraid to talk about what's been a taboo subject in some circles.

The former Newcastle Knights star sees the treatment of head knocks as a serious issue in sport and regularly runs into former players who slur their words or lose their train of thought mid-sentence.

"There are some that are really struggling with life," Johns said.

But the 45-year-old says there's still a real stigma around the subject among many in footy - a situation that was rammed home when he attempted to talk about it during a speaking engagement.

Johns says it's time everyone stood up and acknowledged reality.

"What really s---s me, (is when) you come out and say something about this, there are still people within the game who say 'listen to this, here we go, the handbags are out'," Johns said on the Triple M Grill Team on Thursday morning.

"I got up and spoke at a function about certain players, old players that played in the generation just before me. And I'm running some of those guys down, mate and I'm telling you now - they're hanging by a thread some of these blokes.

"And when you start to talk about that (the impact of concussion) I get heckled from the crowd - 'ah, that's bulls---, I played, (there's) nothing wrong with me'. They deny it. I don't know whether it's fear of themselves, or they just think you're being a total alarmist, but it is actually real."

 

Fox Sports presenter and former NRL star Matthew Johns.
Fox Sports presenter and former NRL star Matthew Johns. Brett Costello

Johns' view has been shaped by a meeting with doctor Bennet Omalu - the forensic pathologist who first identified chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in an NFL player and was played by Will Smith in the film Concussion.

The prevalence of CTE was further highlighted this week when it was revealed 110 of 111 deceased players that featured in a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association had the disease.

"Talking to Bennet Omalu, when I interviewed him at the time ... what was interesting was that when he spoke to certain people around the NFL players, often times players who retired who were having trouble fitting in to normal society - you know, marriage breakdowns, relationship breakdowns, couldn't hold employment - people were saying they're missing life in the spotlight, missing the buzz of the game and it will never be the same again," Johns said.

"It's very much what we've said about our players in the last 25 years, 'Oh, look at them, they just can't fit in, people are just missing the spotlight.' And I'm going, 'Hmm, no. I think there's more things at play.'"

 

Canberra Raiders NRL player Iosia Soliola arrives for his judiciary hearing at Rugby League Central in Sydney.
Canberra Raiders NRL player Iosia Soliola arrives for his judiciary hearing at Rugby League Central in Sydney. PAUL MILLER

Johns and co-host Mark Geyer suggested it would take similar studies to what is happening in American for the NRL community to really understand the issue.

But he said progress was being made, highlighting a situation involving his son earlier this month.

"I went and saw my son play at Belmore Oval, he put his head on the wrong side (in a tackle), very simple, went down, got up and was wobbling a bit. They took him straight off," Johns said.

"He actually passed his assessment but they said 'no, you wobbled, we're not going to let you go back out there'. That's encouraging."

Storm star Slater revealed he couldn't remember the past two weeks of his life after being concussed in a sickening high tackle by Canberra forward Sia Soliola last weekend.

News Corp Australia

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