Many people are well aware of the concussive risks associated with playing football or boxing, but all contact sports put players at a risk of suffering concussive and sub-concussive hits. In light of mounting evidence, sports organizations are implementing concussion protocols that can help reduce the long-term effects of concussions, and it appears English soccer may be next.
During the UEFA Champions League final, a player from the opposing team elbowed Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius in the head. Despite the blow, there was no call for medical treatment on the field, and Mr. Karius continued to play for the rest of the game. In the days after the game, Liverpool sent Mr. Karius to Massachusetts General Hospital for testing and doctors diagnosed him with a concussion.
This is by no means a singular occurrence, and with the mounting body of research regarding the long-term effects of repeated concussions, the English Premier League is taking action. A proposal from the English Premier League physicians aims to reduce the number of untreated concussions for its players. The proposal suggests concussion protocols where a player suspected of sustaining a concussion would exit the game for 10 minutes for a medical examination by an independent physician. Soccer has strict rules for the number of substitutions that can take place during a game, but a substitution for a concussion evaluation would not count toward a team’s total number of substitutions.
The proposal will first have to be approved by the International Football Association Board, which serves “the world of football as the independent guardian of the Laws of the Game.” Even though the proposal could greatly improve the health of players, it faces some serious obstacles. Many sports organizations, like the National Football League (NFL) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in the United States, failed to implement concussion protocols for decades and only recently took steps to protect players from the consequences of head trauma. This is particularly devastating considering football players can experience dozens of hits to the head in just one game.
The NFL has taken action to compensate players for the neurological damage they sustained during play, but the NCAA has yet to act. Lawsuits against the NCAA are still in the early phases, but the first case that went to trial ended in a successful settlement.