Jun 01, 2021

“I have dementia”: Rugby league legend opens up about devastating diagnosis

Mortimer’s revelation comes as the game’s administrators struggle with the issue of brain injuries caused by head clashes, and the recent crackdown on high tackles.

The tougher new rules have prompted some supporters and players to speak out against ARLC chairman Peter V’landys, and on Fox Sport’s NRL 360 aired earlier this week, The Daily Telegraph journalist Phil Rothfield said the crackdown threatened to make the State of Origin “unwatchable”. 

The opposition to the new rules forced Mortimer, who is only 64, to act, and in an emotional exchange, he revealed he was officially diagnosed with dementia in March.

Asked if he believes the diagnosis is due to the head injuries he received while playing league, he replied, “Absolutely. Absolutely.”

Mortimer was one of the most brilliant players of the 1970s and ’80s. He played 272 games for Canterbury, nine tests for Australia and 16 matches for NSW.

The Daily Telegraph revealed Mortimer was prompted to ring V’landys on Monday after reading about the backlash against the new rules, and he subsequently agreed to speak publicly about his diagnosis.

V’landys has reportedly said the NRL won’t back down over the rule changes, explaining concussion is the “most important issue the game has ever faced”.

Mortimer told V’landys, “You have just got to forget all these people who are against you.”

“These blokes who want to stick it up Peter V’landys or whatever have got no bloody idea,” he said.

In 2019, he admitted that since he entered his 60s he had experienced memory loss, but said he wanted to “fight” against any deterioration in his condition. He said doctors had told him some parts of his brain were not functioning properly, and he attributed the problem to concussions and head knocks during his football career.

He told Insight, “When a young kid gets knocked out, [parents] say my son’s not going to play that game … but in my day it was pretty hard.”

During his football career, Mortimer was knocked out cold three times. In a famous rugby league image, he is shown being carried off the field unconscious.

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