Ex-Reds star will donate brain to science

Anthony Faingaa will donate his brain to research so there's a chance even one footballer can benefit from the rattling concussions of his long career.

The former Wallaby and Queensland Reds regular can now admit he had more than 50 head knocks of varying degrees across a 12-year career at the top level.

That's right. 50. Minimum.

Those ranged from dizzying knocks at training he reported to no one to being knocked out cold and going off on a stretcher in a 2011 Rugby World Cup game.

Not having future footballers robbed of priceless memories, long after they hang up their boots, is one side to Faingaa's zeal to help out in the concussion debate.

 

Anthony Faingaa will donate his brain to concussion research. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)
Anthony Faingaa will donate his brain to concussion research. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

 

His own recall of being best man at brother Saia's wedding in 2015 is still fuzzy.

He was beside his twin at the altar just weeks after an accidental kick to the face and two knocks to the head forced him off against the Crusaders in Christchurch.

"It's one of the hardest things for me to say but Saia's big day is still a blur to me and he had to remind me where I put his wedding ring," Faingaa said.

"I led with my head as a player.

"I was a low tackler at hips and knees and, if I'd take a knock, I'd say to myself 'just harden up, you're OK, play on'.

"If I'm really honest, 50 concussions is a bare minimum from my career and 10 of those were the 'out cold' type like the game against the USA at the 2011 World Cup."

World Rugby's concussion protocols have advanced considerably so referees and sideline doctors have taken welfare calls away from players who feel they should be bulletproof.

Faingaa has been through all the emotions.

 

Anthony and Saia Faingaa. Picture: Annette Dew
Anthony and Saia Faingaa. Picture: Annette Dew

 

After the 2015 episode, the centre was scared. He was scared of blurred vision, headaches, forgetting parts of movies, fatigue and what a visit to a neurosurgeon might reveal.

He's willing to talk intimately on the subject because "I want players to be more open about their head health."

"Rugby is a fantastic game and I will always encourage kids to play and learn the right tackling skills," the 23-Test Wallaby said.

He's been support by talking to professional players with head knock concerns and long-time club players too.

The admirable Faingaa still calls playing top-level rugby "a blessing" that has taught him skills and the work ethic for the life he now leads as an insurance broker in the construction game.

He's good at his job but he still writes down everything or records notes so he doesn't forget anything.

He's 33 and leading a full life. And he wants to remember every precious moment with wife Stephanie and their bubbly kids Malia, 3, and Gia, 1.

Faingaa knew the move he wanted to make long before the recent tremors through AFL after the great Graham "Polly" Farmer was found to have a degenerative brain disease when examined at autopsy.

The more doctors find out about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), and the effect of repeated head knocks, the better for players in all the football codes.

"This is going to be a huge conversation and I know of other players nearing the end of careers who have worries," Faingaa said.

"All I can be is positive.

"I've talked it through with my wife and family and already signed the document to donate my brain to research when the time comes.

"It's human to help and if I can help one person it will be worth it."


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