By Ken Reed

The 2014 World Cup has been filled with excitement and drama.

Unfortunately, as with American football — albeit not to the same degree — a pall hangs over the games due to what we’ve learned in recent years about brain trauma and concussions in contact sports.

Concussions are fairly common in soccer but a growing concern is the repetitive sub-concussive blows to the brain resulting from the practice of heading.

Juliet Macur has written an excellent article in The New York Times about the risks of heading. Macur writes about Patrick Grange, the first soccer player to be officially diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative brain disease linked to too many shots to the head. It’s the same diagnosis given to numerous NFL football players, including a few who committed suicide due to the torment their diseased brains were causing them.

Macur also mentions a soccer study published in the journal Radiology last year. The study examined 39 amateur adult soccer players who had played soccer since childhood. The study concluded that heading had caused noticeable changes in the brain and resulted in “poorer neurocognitive performance.”

Concussions are an even bigger concern in the girls game. Girls soccer is second to football as the sport with the most concussions at the high school level.

Now, Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett, and Cindy Parlow Cone, teammates on the 1999 USA women’s World Cup champions, have teamed up with the Sports Legacy Institute and the Santa Clara Institute of Sports Law and Ethics for a campaign called Parents and Pros for Safer Soccer. They’ve called for guidelines calling for the elimination of heading the ball by players younger than 14. Heading is a leading cause of brain injuries in soccer, and as the Radiology report suggests, could be a cause of long-term neurocognitive problems.

It’s a serious issue that all soccer parents and coaches need to address.

“Soccer might not be football, but we do know now that brain injuries in soccer is a huge issue, and is a very serious issue,” said Parlow Cone. “I didn’t know that growing up. No one really did. The knowledge just wasn’t out there back then. But now there’s no excuse. We need to do better for our kids.”

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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