The frequency of concussions and injuries in the World Cup has raised concern about the treatment of concussions in professional soccer. Several instances of players suffering head injuries and immediately returning to play has instigated a debate among experts.
On Sunday’s World Cup tournament, German player Christoph Kramer suffered a severe hit to the head from an Argentinian player. Though the hit knocked him to the ground, Kramer returned to play immediately after being checked by trainers. Only 15 minutes later, the 23-year-old midfielder had to be helped off the field due to dizziness, indicating a possible concussion.
Soccer is known for being a high impact sport, with players moving at fast speeds and without any pads or protection. However, some argue that the issue of professional soccer head injuries is not being properly addressed. Former Major League Soccer player Bryan Namoff argues professional soccer leagues need to take the problem more seriously.
5 years ago, Namoff was playing at RFK stadium for D.C. United when an opponent collided with him and struck his head, much like Kramer’s hit. “At full speed,” remarked Namoff, “so my head and neck whipped to the left and my body followed afterwards.” Also like Kramer, Namoff immediately returned to play the rest of the game, and went on to play another game 3 days later on September 12, 2009.
“The next day was the worst day of my life as far as pain is concerned,” said Namoff. “I had the most debilitating headaches.” The headaches never went away; the hit at RFK stadium turned out to be a career-ending blow. The headaches cause Namoff to retire from his soccer career in July 2010, after which he went on to work in the D.C. United’s front office.
However, the headaches still did not let up. Namoff, now 35, claims he is unable to work due to the debilitating headaches and is suing his former team for not properly assessing his injuries. D.C. has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
In 2010, Major League Soccer instituted a 9-member concussion committee, which enforced mandatory baseline neuropsychological testing for players. The change in rules requires players to be removed from a game if the player shows symptoms of a head injury. The player has to pass a series of cognitive tests, see a team specialist, and be symptom-free for 24 hours before returning to play.
However, there is some concern that these new regulations will not be strictly enforced. Dr. Riley Williams, team physician for the New York Red Bulls, noted, “There’s always a differential between what the policy says and what the actual application of the policy is on the field.” Specifically, players often demand to return to the game, no matter how severe their injuries might be.
In a World Cup game in June, Uruguay player Alvaro Pereira was kneed in the head so severely that it rendered him unconscious for several seconds. Still, after regaining consciousness Pereira was sighted arguing with the team medical staff, until he was allowed to return to the field. After the game, Pereira remarked that he just wanted to win the game.
FIFA, the international league governing the World Cup tournament, allows team members to make decisions like the one Pereira made. Namoff argues that players are not fit to make these decisions, since they may be unaware of the severity of their injury.
“Of course, any competitive athlete wants to be on the field whenever they can,” he said. “If a player is truly injured in the head or has concussion-like symptoms, he might not be aware of it and he should to be put in the predicament of trying to determine whether he does feel good enough to play.”