Hayman, All Blacks legend: “Too many trauma, I have symptoms of dementia”

The complaint of the 41-year-old former pilone, who was diagnosed with a probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy. With the New Zealand national team 45 caps, at Toulon he became the highest paid player in the world. Now he joins the legal battle of another 150: “I had no answers, I had gone into a spiral and was thinking of suicide”

Roberto Parretta


The news exploded like a bomb that shook the world of rugby. Carl Hayman, legendary All Blacks prop, 45 caps between 2001 and 2007, was diagnosed with an early form of dementia and a probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. A disease infamous especially in the United States, the subject of a bitter legal war between medicine and football, which was recognized as responsible for the traumas reported in the career and which had led to the death of several players, first of all Mike Webster of the Pittsburgh Steelers .


In rugby there is no known case history on the incidence of game trauma with respect to the onset of Alzheimer’s and no cases were known, before Hayman, among the All Blacks, the most important and famous team in the world. Hayman, who is now 41 and lives in New Plymouth with second wife Kiko and the youngest of four children, has joined a group of 150 players led by former England hooker and 2003 world champion Steve. Thompson, who sued the English RFU and the World Rugby Federation on charges of failing to adequately protect players from the risks of concussions (the famous “concussions”), despite scientific information highlighting the problem. “I don’t know how long I thought I was going crazy, I had no other explanation,” Hayman tells independent journalist Dylan Cleaver and The Bounce. “Then with the continuous and more and more painful headaches and other symptoms I realized that the explanation could not be that”. When he left New Zealand in 2007 (after the shocking elimination with France in the quarter-finals of the World Cup) and his all-time club, the Otago Highlanders, to join Toulon, Hayman became the highest-paid rugby player in the world. Today, six years after the end of his career, he revealed the spiral in which he found himself, between disorientation, headaches, alcohol abuse, prison for domestic violence and suicide intentions. “For about a year I avoided delving into it, I just hoped things would improve. Then, before I went to England to talk about it, I finally turned to the doctors, but things seemed to be taking a long time and I got to a point where I want answers. I also thought it would be selfish of me not to make the problem public and miss the opportunity to help someone else who has no support or knowledge ”. So, even for easier access to the tests, Hayman joined the lawsuit filed by the other players. “The other side of this problem is that you can prevent others from falling into this trap, so that you are no longer treated as objects: those who aspire to a professional career must have access to more accurate controls. Also because I have known cases of people affected by some form of this disease who simply played at school or university level ”.


In his 17-year professional career, Hayman played 441 games. “Not counting the training sessions,” says the former prop. “Since I was 15 and I was in the youth national teams between training and matches the number of blows to the head is incalculable. But the CTE is not limited to concussions, but all the blows suffered contribute to its development ”. It is estimated that for the number of games played, Hayman may have suffered about 150,000 hits, related to concussion or subconcussion. Attorney Richard Boardman of the Ryalds Law firm, who represents the players, speaks of a “time bomb” compared to players who around their 20s report symptoms that can then lead to epilepsy, Parkinson’s, dementia, neurological diseases approximately when they will have 40. Hayman points his finger at the exasperation of the rugby calendars: “If we think of the NFL, I see a season that lasts for 4-5 months with 17 games to play plus another 4 or so if we count the playoffs. In rugby we play 10 months a year. I remember when I turned pro I went to a players association meeting where they talked about the possibility of a unified global calendar and a short season. If you go to a meeting today you can still hear them talking about those things. There would be several measures to be taken if we wanted to protect the players of tomorrow. A discussion is needed on how a certain volume of rugby matches can be defined as acceptable ”.


Mark Robinson, current CEO of the New Zealand federation and former Hayman’s teammate, obviously learned the news with pain: “My thoughts are first of all for Carl and his entire family. It is hard to learn that a member of our community has to fight such a painful battle. At the same time, we must continue to reiterate that the health and safety of players is the top priority of our organization. In particular, our attention is expressed in the contribution we offer to the development of policies and research on the complex problem of concussion ”. Hayman said that some problems had started to arise when he was playing for Toulon, with a series of repeated deja-vu on the pitch, which he found bizarre and at the same time disturbing. He did not know at the time that if brought to the attention of a neurologist, those episodes would be defined as alarming, as a possible symptom of dementia. But it was when he quit and started coaching at Pau in 2016 that the spiral sucked him in. “Headaches – says Hayman – became more and more frequent and painful. And I started having memory problems. I had to get a passport for my son and for a few moments I couldn’t remember his name. For about 25 seconds I explored my mind, but nothing. To the person on the phone I had to say ‘sorry, I’m sorry, but I don’t remember my son’s name’. Behavioral problems also arose at some point. I have never disdained a beer with friends, but then the abuse came. It seemed to me that I could escape reality for at least a brief moment. But, as you can imagine, that couldn’t be the solution. In fact, the next day everything got worse. I fell into addiction ”.


And, although he was never diagnosed, at one point Hayman thought he was dealing with depression. And thoughts of suicide also came: “For a while, at least once a day I thought about it. My marriage to Natalie obviously fell apart and we ended up in court too. Today I can say that I have no excuses, but that man was not me. I’m not a person who gets angry, but I was in a black hole and I thought I would stay there forever ”. All those symptoms put together, however, led him finally to give a name to his disease: CTE. “Recently I have had some dizziness, but also to remain silent, unable to find the words to say”. The same journalist Dylan Clever in the course of the telephone conversation notes “the frequent pauses while assembling his sentences” or when Hayman “begins to answer a question but in the middle goes to answer a previous question to which he has already answered”. The former prop explains it this way: “It’s like I have fog in my head. Fatigue and stress only exacerbate the symptoms, so it’s important for me to take care of my time, exercise and keep fit. My wife Kiko, family and friends who know me well play an important role in keeping my brain on track ”. For all of them, hope is called medicine: advances in science and some modern therapies can slow the inexorable advance of dementia. Now Hyman no longer drinks, trains to attend Ironman events (he has already done two) and runs his own small boat rental business in New Plymouth. For a long time, Hayman was undecided about whether to embark on such a complicated and high-profile legal battle, but what drives him now is the desire to leave the youngsters better rugby. The way the sport is structured and administered, according to him, needs to change, and if legal action provides any momentum, then Hayman would find himself dealing with disappointment at being left on the sidelines of this fight. Which a true prop will never accept.

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Hayman, All Blacks legend: “Too many trauma, I have symptoms of dementia”

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