Olsi Krasniqi has never been one for the limelight during his rugby league career.
Having got on with his job in a professional manner after debuting for the London Broncos in 2010, that was about to change late last year.
The 29-year-old was forced into retirement after suffering a brain injury from a long string of concussions over the years.
As the debate surrounding the concussion issue continues to grow, Krasniqi was one of the few unfortunates that had to hang up his boots because of it – but he has spoken to Serious About Rugby League about just how helpful the aftercare team have been at the RFL.
“I’ve had a lot of support from RL Cares in getting me ready for life after rugby and they have been there through some pretty tough times,” Krasniqi said.
“It’s been extremely useful for me and has put me in the right place to actually take a step back and see the damage I am causing myself and accept the fact I was at the end of my career.”
When asked what needs to be changed regarding the concussion laws, the Albanian-born enforcer had a number of ideas of how to lessen the increasing problem.
“I believe it’s foolish to think new laws will eradicate concussions, it’s just not possible, the game is so fast, and players are incredibly athletic, there are constant moving parts that you’re bound to end up in a bad position at some point or be in a big collision.
“But what we can do is improve the things we already have in place like the HIA protocol, which I am sure has saved many players from extra damage but I think we need to make it more personalised to each player.
“Personally, I didn’t have too many problems in passing the test even when I was in a bad shape. That puts everyone involved in a real moral dilemma, what do you do going forward if you’re passing the test but feel horrible?
“You’re relying on medical to make a big call or risk further damage. Physios do such a great job creating prehab programmes for players so they can prevent injuries, and I believe we can do the same for the HIA plus the recovery programme needs to be more than just rest.
“All concussions are different even though the blow is to the same place it must be treated differently, just like a torn hamstring, you treat it depending on which of the three muscles is torn. Should be no different for the brain.”
Krasniqi was also honest about changing the amount of contact professionals do during the week so as not to overdo things.
“I also think we need to come up with some changes to how much contact we can do throughout the week. There must be some sort of cap put in place preventing people from over doing it. It’s something that many contact sports all over the world are adopting and it’s time we looked at doing the same, it’s completely unregulated at the moment.
“At the end of the day this may save some players and will give extra cover for clubs and the RFL in case of potential lawsuits of the likes we are currently seeing.
“At the very least we have to change the way we view concussions. A ‘bang to the head’ or a ‘head knock’ have become such consistent terms that we use to describe the injury but it doesn’t shed enough light to what is actually going on inside the brain and the trauma that can be caused from it.
“A concussion shouldn’t be spoken about in the same terms such as a twisted ankle it is so much more important than that.
“The consequences and repercussions of not giving this injury the property time to heal is massive.”
Krasniqi has revealed that not only has there been a physical issue, but emotionally, the suffering has been unbearable at times.
“After getting concussed in round one it was just one too many and the effects from it is something I’m paying the price for until this day, a whole nine months later,” Krasniqi told Serious About Rugby League.
“This year has been pretty difficult and a rollercoaster of emotions, I spent the best part of the season trying to return to play while life at home was massively shaken up.
“It’s only when you look back and think to yourself how on earth could I have realistically returned to play when normal daily tasks were difficult to perform.
“There were times where I couldn’t stand without getting dizzy and couldn’t be outside in the sunlight because it brought on headaches, more dizziness, and balance problems.
“On several occasions I would drive to training and have to pull over and give my eyes a rest as the early morning sun was unbearable.
“Then attempt to go in to the training ground and try to be your normal self and be a leader within the group, it was hard.
“As men, let alone Rugby League players, you deny the fact you may be struggling but add in a high stake’s sports environment and the symptoms of concussion plus trying to suppress all the emotions that are wildly unpredictable, it becomes a real recipe for disaster.
“I struggled a lot with anxiety and the unknown of what the future holds not just career wise but my long term health. Concussions are strange because they completely take you away from your normal self, and someone smarter than me can talk about the science behind it but for me I lost my sense of self and felt like I was in a constant fog wherever I went, which wasn’t a great time for me.”
The Albanian-born 29-year-old has, however, praised the staff at his most recent club London for the help which they gave him in his desperate time of need.
“I was extremely lucky that Wardy (Danny Ward) and the rest of the coaching staff were incredibly supportive and gave me the time I needed, and that we had a physio in Charlie Baxter who specialized in Vestibular rehab, and she helped bring me back to some sort of normality.
“I still struggle with the symptoms now at times, but I have made many significant lifestyle changes which have made a huge difference and have put me on a better road to recovery.”
Krasniqi was keen to stress that players need to put their hand up more, regardless of outside and inside pressure to ‘carry on’, and admit that they are suffering when concussions hit.
“What people have to understand is that the last concussion is just the last straw, I have had a series of concussions that spanned 12 years of my career that were never treated in the right manner, many times being cleared to play a lot earlier than I probably should of and a lot of that comes down to me personally and my choices but between 2008 when I joined the academy to around 2015/16 it was the Wild West when it came to concussions and many players went through similar things, and you just fought on.
“Recovery was rest a couple days and the expectation was that you played on, admittedly I also had that same attitude, but players need to be saved from themselves sometimes because if given the choice to play or not, they’ll more than likely choose to play as ‘to not let anyone down’.
“I believe that culture and way of thinking is still in the game today with players too worried to say anything because it might jeopardise their spot and is something I’ve witnessed first hand and it’s extremely difficult for a young player especially to do but at the end of the day if you miss a few games you have to realise there is a long time to get things back on track and an even longer life post rugby to think about.”
It’s a terrible thing and a terrible contradiction that players may hasten the demise of their sport. Sad.