Books & Literature

Book Review: A Delicate Game, by Hana Walker-Brown

NON-FICTION: This is the story of the degenerative brain disease, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), concussive and sub-concussive trauma. It is also a story of power, of science and sport, and of the bodies that society deems worth sacrificing.

A distressing account of lives glorified then discarded by the same powerful beings

What do boxers, domestic violence victims, veterans, soccer stars and rugby players all have in common?

If you guessed multiple sufferers of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), then you would be right. That is to name only one commonality. Powerful bodies that ignore their needs or cover up the truth is to name another.

Previously known as Punch Drunk Syndrome and associated (in the mainstream) only with boxers, CTE has in more recent times finally been acknowledged in other types of contact sports. CTE is a progressive brain condition that is caused by repeated blows to the head and/or repeated episodes of concussion. It can cause dementia, parkinsonism, Alzheimer’s, memory loss, cognitive impairment, and behavioural changes.

Due to both its progressive nature and the powerful bodies that govern sport, the media and medicine, it has taken decades for the victims and their families to finally receive some form of recognition. In Walker-Brown’s book she details the painstaking process that athletes and their families have taken to gain even a semblance of recognition by the sports industry, noting that recognition does not equate to support or access to treatment.

It is unconscionable to imagine that sporting heroes such as Jeff Astle and Steve Thompson once glorified by the media and sports industries were both cruelly dumped once CTE surfaced. “I am driven as much by rage as I am by hope.” This is Walker-Brown’s mantra as an author.

When reading A Delicate Game, these are exactly the feelings you feel as a reader. Her writing is a cleverly balanced mix of stories of everyday people to super stars, with the stories revisited mainly by her interviews with the people around them (or left behind). The frustrated carers/mourners find they need fend for themselves and encounter such systemic frustrations such as utter denial by the establishment.

The author delves deep into the game playing of powerful bodies by bringing in Dr Bennet Omalu’s story, whose research was constantly discredited and ignored, using media propaganda and by sporting associations. Armed with multiple studies and numerous references, this book has no pretences or agendas, except perhaps for one: to bring awareness to the public and hopefully further action.

This book is highly intense and not for the faint-hearted. It will be triggering for victims or carers. It is particularly pertinent for anyone who plays contact sports or is a parent of a player. To put it into perspective if you must read it, how many retired VFL/AFL players are suffering from a form of brain damage?

To cite the text, which notes the results from the 2021 Australian Sports Brain Bank, the disturbing answer is 80 percent.

Reviewed by Rebecca Wu

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not necessarily of Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Hana Walker-Brown
Released: March 2022
RRP: $32.99

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