Soccer Has Head Injury Problem Too

By Josh Marks
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

American football has been the contact sport at the center of controversy regarding head injuries. With the latest bad news that participation at Pop Warner youth football dropped 9.5 percent from 2010-2012 and national sports broadcaster Bob Costas‘ comments that he wouldn’t want his son playing tackle football, the NFL‘s greatest nightmare from its concussion crisis is coming true.

If parents are worried about brain damage and the trend in youth football continues, where is the next generation of pro football players going to come from?

Many parents will encourage their children to play soccer instead. There is a perception that the global game is safe to play compared to American football. The popularity of youth soccer in the United States continues to grow. According to the U.S. Youth Soccer website, more than three million young people registered to play soccer in 2012.

But is soccer really that safe when it comes to protecting the head?

The research says no. An Albert Einstein College of Medicine study published in the journal Radiology found that soccer players who head the ball frequently have concussive-like brain abnormalities and a loss of memory.

“We studied soccer players because soccer is the world’s most popular sport. Soccer is widely played by people of all ages and there is concern that heading the ball – a key component of the sport – might damage the brain,” said the study’s lead researcher Michael L. Lipton, M.D., Ph.D.

American football, and ice hockey to a lesser extent, are at a crossroads and both of these sports could radically change to reduce catastrophic brain injuries. Soccer needs to be under the microscope as well.

Should heading be eliminated entirely from the game? Should players be required to wear protective headgear similar to Chelsea and Czech Republic goaltender Petr Čech, who started wearing padded headgear after a skull fracture in a 2006 match with Reading when he collided with midfielder Stephen Hunt?

Just as in football and hockey, there will be many “purists” who believe these changes will ruin the integrity of the game. But sports have always evolved in relation to the times, and these times demand that the head injury epidemic be confronted head-on.

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