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Australia seeing NFL-type trauma

BRISBANE, Australia — Concern over sports-related concussions has moved down under, where one of the country’s top former Australian rules football players says he has a degenerative brain disease after sustaining four serious head injuries during his career.

Representatives from the four main variations of football in the country — Australian rules, rugby league, rugby union, and soccer — will take part in a two-day conference this month to discuss the long-term effects of brain injuries to their athletes.

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And Melbourne’s Deakin University has begun a study involving 30 Australian Football League and National Rugby League players. Among them is Greg Williams, a two-time winner of the Brownlow Medal as the AFL’s ‘‘best and fairest’’ player, who says he can’t remember large chunks of his career.

Williams is one of seven players in the Deakin study who are showing symptoms of the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative condition that has affected some athletes who have had a history of concussions and other head traumas.

Dr. Alan Pearce, who is directing the study, says there are valid comparisons in Australia with the National Football League, where an Associated Press review in November found that more than 3,800 players have sued the NFL over head injuries in at least 175 cases as the concussion issue has gained attention in recent years.

‘‘We are seeing similar long-term effects on some of the players,’’ said Pearce.

Junior Seau, a former NFL linebacker, died at age 43 of a self-inflicted gunshot last May. He was diagnosed with CTE, based on posthumous tests, in January.

In Australia, Williams won the AFL championship match in 1995 with Carlton and played 250 senior matches with three clubs between 1984 and 1997. His wife, Mary, has been quoted in Australian media as saying that her husband, now 49, is prone to forgetfulness and often loses his temper.

‘‘We are noticing similar symptoms coming through,’’ Pearce says of the Deakin study, without referring to Williams specifically. ‘‘Depression, detachment, all of which sounds very similar to other cases here and overseas. Anyone suffering from those symptoms needs to get to a neurologist.’’

Williams believes that playing too soon after a concussion is part of the reason for his memory loss and other issues.

‘‘There are different levels of concussion, and if you’re a certain level and you get knocked out, there’s got to be a one-month, two-month layoff,’’ Williams told Melbourne’s SEN radio. ‘‘They’ve got to get treatment and they’ve got to make sure that they’re [OK] before they come back.

‘‘I know I started ’84 at Geelong . . . but the specifics, like the grand final after the game in the [locker] rooms, I remember nothing about that.’’

Since Williams went public with his concerns in a television interview, Pearce said he has received several calls from former players expressing similar issues.

‘‘You used to say, ‘Blokes, grow up, get out there again,’ ’’ said AFL veteran Mick Malthouse, who acknowledges that in four decades at the top level as either a player or coach, he was among those who didn’t understand the potential repercussions of serious head knocks.

Williams agrees, saying there were no rules regarding concussions in his playing days. If you were knocked out and you recovered, you were sent back on.

‘‘If you didn’t, you were a wimp,’’ Williams says.

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