James Graham is a gift to rugby league.
On the field as a player, he never gave an inch and ran his blood to water, whilst, off it now, he has become one of the most eloquent speakers on the game.
Graham amassed nearly 450 professional appearances and over that time suffered around 100 concussions, and has now set up a podcast – called Head Noise – interviewing major Australian sports stars such as Olympians and rugby union men and women in a bid to assess the wide-ranging issues stemming from concussion.
He confessed in The Australian: “It’s strange to watch who you were. It’s only four years ago, but still. It’s strange to think who you once were.
“I am willing to go where no footballer has gone before, and that is to have my brain tested and scanned and to share the results as I receive them,” Graham said.
“I wanted to be really open and honest about this issue, and I wanted people to come on this journey with me with an aim to create a constructive conversation around the issue – but mostly I want to create positive change.”
However, not everyone can see the positive change that Graham is doing, with him and his fiercest critic and author and writer, Peter FitzSimons, almost coming to blows at a Concussion Legacy Panel that had been organised to support athletes and families dealing with the after-effects of concussion. Though they did shake hands at the end of the event, it’s been reported that tensions were incredibly high.
Instead, FitzSimons took into account Graham’s previous comments on head blows in rugby league and his desire to stay on the field despite head knocks, as well as repeatedly questioning Graham’s “role model” status to young rugby league players.
FitzSimons kept up the pressure on the former Saints star’s previous comments: “maybe for me, the meaning of life was finding something worth dying for. Was that rugby league?”.
In response, Graham retorted: “I am astonished he attempted to make it about me and him,” said Graham. “I was hoping to talk about the Concussion Legacy Foundation being launched in Australia; however, Peter wanted to dig up the past. I am in shock.”
Not to be ignored, however, FitzSimons continued his tirade, saying: “May I ask a question … I think it was on NRL360, you said something like, well look, to not show weakness to the opposition, just to make it look like I didn’t care, and you also said, really strong comments and Benji Marshall was shocked and you said ‘look, I have to find a purpose in life and maybe to find something worth dying for.”
“You said that you prioritised the present over the future the idea that you went super hard at football now, even if that was going to damage the future. Do you stand by those remarks now?”
Graham replied: “I am not going to betray my former self. That’s who I was.”
Graham also said that he took “neurodegeneration and long-term brain diseases incredibly seriously.”
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