By Ivan Meakins with Isaac Lockett and Freja Petrie
Freja Petrie was an undergraduate student at the Royal Veterinary College when she started playing rugby. Like most players, she appreciated the intensity of the sport, the rush of adrenaline and the tactical mind games that were part of each match.
But it came with a heavy price: three concussions in two years.
For the average person, this should have been a wake-up call to throw in the towel and seek out a less “brain-jarring” sport. However, Freja had conditioned herself to be tough and resilient – a mindset that’s common among athletes in high-impact sports. This meant that she didn’t realise the amount of damage her brain had taken until much later.
This, as she points out, is where the problem lies.
Today, Freja and fellow young entrepreneur Isaac Lockett are both on a mission to change the narrative around brain injuries in sports.
Concussion in sports
It’s no secret that sports injuries are part and parcel of the game. But when we take a closer look at the numbers, it becomes slightly more alarming.
A detailed review of the 2020-21 rugby season paints a stark picture: 22.2 concussions for every 1,000 hours of gameplay. This adds up to a total of 131 concussions incurred during matches. To put this into perspective, it’s higher than the total number of matches played!
Despite these stats, most athletes – particularly at the grassroots level – still don’t have sufficient access to pitchside healthcare or awareness around brain injuries in sports.
Isaac: “At the minute, concussion is just a word for many people. People understand that it’s a word that exists, but they don’t necessarily understand what a concussion actually means or what being concussed actually looks like and how it impacts people.
So what Freja and I are trying to do is deepen the level of understanding around the impact of concussions on people’s health.”
Concussions, mental health and stigma
I noticed two recurring threads throughout my conversation with Isaac and Freya: stigma and an even more delicate topic: mental health.
Beyond the physical symptoms, there’s a hidden stigma that underlies most conversations surrounding concussions. And that’s mostly because it’s an invisible injury that could lead to psychotic episodes and other forms of mental illness.
Since spectators can’t see it, it calls the athlete’s credibility and performance into question. Obviously, this generates further stigma, not just for the athlete but within the sports industry as a whole.
Isaac: “It’s not as concrete as a clear diagnosis due to the nature of the symptoms. It’s an invisible injury, and to some extent, I’d place it in the same category as a mental illness. When a player takes a mental illness break, the fans and the spectators just can’t see it. And because they can’t see it, they question whether it’s actually real or not. I think the stigma stems from a lack of acceptance that head injuries actually impact people. And it’s that kind of stigma that we’re looking to challenge.”
Using video games to change the narrative
The gaming industry is one of the largest worldwide. Currently, there are approximately 3.09 billion active video game players, with this number cutting across cultures and geographic boundaries. Imagine what could happen if such a popular industry was turned into a medium for change.
The results would be incredible!
Isaac and Freja both see an opportunity here. That’s why they’re on a mission to use gaming platforms as a force for good. I was particularly curious about their game plan for achieving this.
Isaac: “It’s about embedding into what already exists. I’m not saying that I want to turn FIFA into Concussion Simulator 24. Essentially, it’s ensuring that concussion exists in the video game space. At the moment, a player can stub their toe, or even break their leg or arm in a video game. But they can’t have a concussion. And obviously, these injuries have an impact in the real world.
So, what we’re trying to do is make it possible for video game characters to become concussed and get a timeout, and it all boils down to the messaging.”
The call to change
Rugby is a high-impact sport where the ability to tackle hard makes you a formidable player. If you key in “best rugby tackles” on social media platforms like TikTok, you’ll find a montage of some truly sensational tackles.
While each video has different variations of what’s considered “the best tackle,” one common thread runs through them all.
The sheer force of each hit. The skill. And pure adrenaline.
That’s what most spectators pay good money to see. As a result, there’s a very thin line between raising awareness about injuries and diluting the very essence of the sport.
However, Freja and Isaac are determined to change the narrative. To turn the tide from glorifying injury to promoting recovery and being proactive in the face of injury. The message they leave us is simple: the call for change begins on the pitch.
Isaac: “There are certain really hard tackles that go viral. While they might be great, they end up damaging the player. We’re not saying we don’t want rugby players to tackle each other hard. We just want players to tackle each other safely. Let’s join hands together and look after one another on the pitch.”
You can also listen to the full conversation on Episode 9 of the Climb podcast, sponsored by Investor Ladder. To find out more about Investor Ladder and upcoming events, click here.
If you enjoyed this blog or listened to the Climb podcast and wanted some advice on how to create regular thought leadership content for your business, get in touch with Write Business Results today.