The former England hooker and captain, 36, suspects that his rugby career has damaged his brain but he will not join the legal action against the sport’s authorities, which includes Steve Thompson, another former England hooker.
Nearly 200 rugby union players are taking legal action against World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union for allegedly failing to “protect players from permanent injury”. Hartley, however, is monitoring his diet, alcohol consumption and sleep quality in an effort to reduce the impact of any brain damage. He has also had scans using an MRI and a SPECT, which involves the injection of low-level radiation. The next three months will include hours in a pressured chamber for hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
“These guys pursuing the group action have made me have a look at myself and realise that I need to be proactive,” he told The Mail on Sunday. “I’ve had some knocks on my head and now I’m doing my rehab so I’m in the best possible place in ten years’ time.
“I’ve had two comprehensive scans of my brain. It’s the MOT that I needed. It would be nice to have something to compare it to, like a scan from when I was 18 years old to provide a base level. I’m committed to this hyperbaric therapy program to see if we can show positive results in terms of brain health. I’d love to provide hope and a solution for people.
“Can I be a trailblazer in terms of brain recovery? I hope so because we can’t ignore what guys like Steve and Alix [Popham] are going through. I need to see my scan in a few months’ time and hopefully it shows some positive results.
“If I’m told my brain’s damaged — and I’ve had brain injuries so there probably is some damage — then all I can do is be proactive.
“My symptoms aren’t bad enough to stop me from seeing the sunshine. It’s not enough to make me think, ‘S**t, I’ve got a problem’. I’m 90 percent fine and there’s a few one percenters that keep me in check: a little bit of dizziness, the odd stutter, dropping things.”
Hartley suffered several concussions during his playing career and was asked to join the action group. He spoke with Popham, one of the former players involved, but is reluctant to confront the issue in such a direct manner.
“The tone of the conversations, spending my whole time thinking I had dementia at 33 years old . . . it didn’t make me feel good about myself,” he said. “If you spend your whole day talking and thinking about deteriorating, forgetting your kid’s name, et cetera, how is that going to make you feel?
“Those guys have got to do their thing. Good on them. I support what they’re doing from afar but I need to find my own way. A way that provides solutions and hope. I love the game and everything it’s given me. I don’t want to put the boot into my sport.”
Hartley also revealed that he could not remember the second half of the 2011 Heineken Cup final after taking a knee to the head. While believing that safety measures have improved, he called for mandatory brain scans and a more effective insurance fund for retired players, which would involve all players contributing one per cent of their salary throughout their careers.
“Sometimes it just feels like nobody in rugby wants to get s**t done,” he said. “I’ve already suggested this to the RPA [the Rugby Players’ Association] but there’s been no action. If it doesn’t happen there’ll probably be another legal case against the game in ten years’ time because everyone’s hips, knees, shoulders and backs are buggered.
“It took me almost three years to get my career-ending insurance payout, which was just enough to cover some surgery. You can see why ex-players fall into financial depression, broken marriages, drugs, alcohol abuse.”
Nevertheless, Hartley, who now works in Dubai and is Director of Rugby for the Dubai Sharks, does not want rugby’s laws to radically change.
“The game is f***ing beautiful in its raw, gladiatorial form. We watch it because we want collisions. We play it because we enjoy collisions. Take that element away and you don’t have rugby.
“The game needs to remain but with a greater understanding of technique, coaching methods, cultural education around alcohol, philosophies.”
Source – The Times: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/dylan-hartley-im-having-hyperbaric-therapy-for-my-brain-because-i-know-its-been-damaged-dzp2tsnl6?shareToken=a0fb30e69a7e3b100c0427e9d1d360de