The one-hour special documentary, Head On: Rugby, Dementia and Me, follows Steve Thompson as he opens up about his life since being diagnosed with early-onset dementia in 2020. Steve discusses how his illness has impacted his own life and the lives of those around him. He speaks about how he was first diagnosed with the condition and how his rugby career is likely to have contributed to it.
Who is Steve Thompson?
Steve Thompson, 44, is a former professional rugby union player who played as a hooker for Northampton Saints, CA Brive, Leeds Carnegie, and made 73 appearances for England.
His career highlight came in the final of the 2003 Rugby World Cup against Australia when he assisted a drop goal in the last minute of extra time that led to England winning the match and the cup. He was awarded an MBE by the Queen after the team’s victory. Steve proposed to his partner Fiona after the world cup final - they have since married and have four children together.
In December 2020, he announced that he had been diagnosed with early-onset dementia and probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain condition caused by repetitive brain trauma and likely a result of his rugby career. CTE can currently only be diagnosed in a post-mortem, and Steve has pledged to donate his brain to CTE research.
Since being diagnosed with dementia, Steve has said that he cannot remember significant moments in his career, including winning the Rugby World Cup and being honoured by the Queen. He also cannot remember the birth of his children and sometimes forgets his wife’s name.
Steve Steve Thompson is one of 182 professional rugby players diagnosed with early-onset dementia and brain injuries, who are bringing a legal case against World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union. They believe that the sport’s governing bodies did not do enough to protect players from brain trauma caused by repetitive concussive and sub-concussive blows to the head.
Can playing rugby cause dementia?
A study by the University of South Wales which used a sample of 300 former and current rugby players, suggests that the sport could contribute to early-onset dementia. Another study found that rugby and football players are six times more likely to have CTE than non-players - CTE eventually causes dementia.
Rugby World last year argued that unhealthy lifestyles of players was a major factor affecting brain health. However, the science suggests that the nature of the game, which sees hundreds of tackles in each match is a significant cause.
Which rugby players have dementia?
Ryan Jones, former Wales rugby captain, was diagnosed with the condition earlier this year, aged 41. Additionally, former Gloucester forward Ed Slater revealed a diagnosis of motor neurone disease, aged 34, which may have been caused by concussions suffered during his career.
More than 185 players are taking legal action against rugby’s governing bodies because of brain conditions they believe were caused by playing the sport without sufficient protection.
When is Head On: Rugby, Dementia and Me on TV?
Head On: Rugby, Dementia and Me will air on BBC Two on Wednesday 5 October at 9pm and will be available to watch on BBC iPlayer shortly after it is first broadcast.
Is there a trailer?
Yes there is, and you can watch it right here: