Category Archives: College

Ban on Heading for Youth Soccer Stirs Controversy

(Editor’s note: The following story was written by Amanda Atwell for Reporting Texas (http://reportingtexas.com), news and features from the University of Texas’ School of Journalism, and is reprinted here with permission.)

Lindsey Meyer has played soccer since she was 4 years old.  The midfielder for the University of Texas at Austin women’s team has never suffered a concussion from heading the ball.

The United States Soccer Federation last November adopted new rules that ban heading in games played by children. Meyer says she couldn’t disagree more: the new rule, she fears, could hurt the development of talented players, and could cause players to be more afraid of heading than they already are.

Meyer and other critics of the ban say it will delay the instruction of proper heading technique. She said it might dissuade young players from wanting to use heading when they get older, because they think it’s unsafe. Some critics say the ban could factor into youth-game strategies that could undermine the integrity of the game.

Heading, in which players redirect an oncoming ball with their heads, is a key element of soccer. But it means that players’ heads come into contact with balls at high speeds, potentially causing concussions. Opinions on the ban are divided in the soccer world. Supporters such as Brandi Chastain, a former U.S. Women’s National Team member believe heading doesn’t need to be taught under the age of 14, and that younger children should be learning basic foot skills and the foundations of soccer.

The change follows a 2014 class action lawsuit filed against U.S. Soccer and FIFA in California by parents demanding a change in how the sport handles concussions. The lawsuit was dropped after U.S. Soccer adopted the new rules, which prohibit players under age 10 from heading the ball and limits heading to practice for players 11 to 13. In a statement last November, U.S. Soccer said changes to the youth game to limit concussions were in the works long before the lawsuit.

“In constructing the concussion component, U.S. Soccer sought input from its medical science committee which includes experts in the field of concussion diagnosis and management, as well as from its technical advisors, and worked with its youth members to develop a true consensus-based program,” U.S. Soccer CEO General Dan Flynn said.

Meyer,  a 22-year-old senior who grew up in Coppell, sides with critics who say banning heading at a young age could cause players to fear heading later on in their soccer careers, when the practice becomes an essential part of the game.  Meyer said she thinks the rule could limit the development of players’ ability to head the ball – a skill that many struggle with even after years of practice.

“I have collegiate friends that hate heading the ball,” Meyer said. “And if they had this rule when they were young, they probably for sure would not head the ball now.”

Paul Gallagher, a North Texas youth soccer coach and the founder of the Odyssey Soccer Club, said he doesn’t believe the regulation will have a significant effect on player’s skill development. Gallagher focuses on developing young players’ footwork at his twice-a-week practices.

“Our time as a coach is a lot more useful spent working on their feet and not on their head at 10 years of age,” Gallagher said. “You build a foundation of foot skills and tactics, and everything else can be built on top of that.”

But Gallagher said he thinks some coaches might exploit the new rule to help their teams, depending on how it’s enforced. If a game is stopped because a player headed the ball and the other team got possession, teams could try to force opponents to head the ball to gain an advantage.

“If the rule is that a player can’t head the ball, coaches could tell their players to throw the ball towards [opponents’] heads,” Gallagher said. He said some coaches might think, “We throw the ball right at them; if the player heads the ball, we get a PK (penalty kick). If they duck, well, then we’re in behind them anyway.”

Sarah Fields, an associate professor at the University of Colorado at Denver, specializes in sports-related injuries. She conducted a study on how heading the ball affects high-school soccer players, and the results don’t support the new rule.

“While a large portion of concussions occur during the act of heading, the mechanism or cause, far more frequently than the ball, was another player,” such as elbows to the face or colliding with another player’s head, Fields said.

Players more often get concussions from elbows to the face or colliding with another player’s head. The increasingly aggressive nature was to blame for concussions – not the contact with the ball itself.

Discouraging heading could lead to players not being trained to execute them properly. That, combined with increasingly aggressive play, could result in injuries. Fields doesn’t completely disagree with the rule, but said tighter refereeing — such as calling more fouls — could have a bigger impact on reducing injuries.

“I think not knowing what you’re doing puts you at a greater risk, and it puts your opponent at a greater risk,” Fields said. “You go up with your eyes shut, then you’re panicked and you flail. You’re going to hit somebody, and nothing good is going to come of that.”

Meyer, the Texas midfielder, said heading is a crucial component of the game and training should start early.

“Heading is something you need to learn at a young age, because it’s so important to the game of soccer,” she said.

 

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Senators Welcome Committee Passage of Bill to Protect Young Athletes from Concussions, Tackle False Safety Claims for Sports Gear

Late last month, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) welcomed passage of their bill in the Senate Commerce Committee aimed at protecting young athletes from the dangers of sports-related traumatic brain injuries. The senators, all members of the committee, introduced the Youth Sports Concussion Act earlier this year to help ensure that safety standards for sports equipment, including football helmets, are based on the latest science and curb false advertising claims made by manufacturers to increase protective sports gear sales.

“Today’s Commerce Committee passage of our Youth Sports Concussion Act marks an important step toward cracking down on misleading claims and ensuring New Mexico kids can have fun and play sports safely,” Udall said. “Sports are an important part of staying active and learning the value of teamwork for many kids. Parents and coaches want to do everything they can to keep their kids safe on the field or the court, and they deserve to have the facts needed to make knowledgable safety decisions. Our bill would help stop companies that take advantage of parents and athletes’ concerns about concussions and falsely market products as ‘safety’ equipment, despite little evidence that the products protect players.”

“One thing’s certain about Minnesotans – we love our sports. But whether it’s football, hockey, or the many other sports we play and love, parents, coaches, and young athletes must be equipped with the facts and informed of the risks when making safety decisions,” Klobuchar said. “Today’s Commerce Committee passage of our bill will protect our athletes and help make sure they can continue to compete on and off the field safely.”

“I am proud that the Senate Commerce Committee voted to advance the Youth Sports Concussions Act,” Blumenthal said. “We know all too well that the dangers of head injuries are real. As the science around prevention develops, this important bill will ensure our federal agencies can crack down on athletic equipment manufacturers that peddle quackery. No company should be able to use deceptive claims to exploit parents’ natural instincts to protect their children. Our youngest athletes – our future sports heroes – deserve accurate information to make informed decisions so that the sports they play today can be sports they play for a lifetime.”

Udall, Klobuchar and Blumenthal introduced the Youth Sports Concussion Act ahead of Super Bowl 50, amid discussion among doctors, players, researchers and others about the need to protect players – especially young athletes – from experiencing debilitating head injuries. Athletes suffer up to 3.8 million concussions every year, and sports are the second-leading cause of traumatic brain injuries among youth ages 15-24.

An extensive National Academy of Sciences report previously found a lack of scientific evidence that helmets and other protective devices designed for young athletes reduce concussion risk – yet some manufacturers continue to use false advertising claims that prevent athletes, parents and coaches from making informed safety decisions.

In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warned nearly 20 sports equipment manufacturers that they might be making deceptive concussion prevention claims, but the FTC’s actions thus far have not deterred companies from making these claims. The Youth Sports Concussion Act would empower the FTC to seek civil penalties in such cases.

Udall has led efforts in Congress to improve equipment safety standards and curb false advertising claims, focusing on ensuring parents, coaches and players have the information they need to make important decisions about how to prevent head injuries. A previous version of the Youth Sports Concussion Act passed the Senate Commerce Committee in April 2014. Last year, Udall and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) called on the FTC to investigate potentially misleading safety claims used to sell soccer headgear. Udall also worked to include several concussion prevention provisions in December’s appropriations bill.

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The Limits of Fairness Ethics and Gender Equity in Football

(Editor’s Note: What follows is an excerpt from an insightful piece written by Richard Robeson and Nancy M. P. King, scholarsat the Wake Forest University Center for Bioethics, Health, and Society, for the May issue of Concussion Litigation Reporter. To see the full story, please subscribe at http://concussionpolicyandthelaw.com/subscribe/)

In the 2014 PBS Frontline documentary “League of Denial,” an anonymous “NFL doctor” is quoted by neuropathologist Bennet Omalu as saying, “If ten percent of mothers refused to let their sons play football, the NFL would cease to exist.”[1] Among the many possible interpretations of such an apparently simple, straightforward statement is an acknowledgement of the importance of women to the future of football. Professional football is extraordinarily lucrative, and the system from which it draws players depends in large part on attracting adherents at a young age.[2] The current level of women’s involvement in football extends well beyond that of a mother giving or denying consent for her son to participate. Not only are women involved in NFL ownership[3] and management; women are also sports journalists, sideline reporters, and analysts, and an NFL team, the Arizona Cardinals, made history in 2015 by naming Jennifer Welter to its coaching staff.[4] From the standpoint of recognizing talent as the principal criterion of career advancement, or of shattering yet another glass ceiling, such developments are clearly laudable. A related but potentially more problematic trend, however, is the increased participation of women and girls as players in the sport of tackle football – a development that raises the question whether fairness, justice, or something else altogether is at work.

To some, football is at a crisis point, and in some respects at odds with itself.  The sport’s popularity continues to grow. In 2016 the Super Bowl, the NFL’s championship game, was broadcast live in 170 countries, and “in almost 25 different languages, including French, German, Mandarin Chinese, and Spanish.”[5] Regular-season games are being played in England, Germany, Mexico and Japan, and future plans for extending the League’s global footprint include regular-season games in China.[6] According to some sources, it is inevitable that the League will eventually expand to have teams situated in foreign countries.[7] The NFL’s reported earnings for the 2015 season are expected to exceed  $13 billion[8] and this does not include individual team value or revenues.

Counterposed against this bright present and the promise of an even brighter future is increased concern about the long term health effects of playing football, as research[9] and advanced diagnostic techniques[10] connect recurrent mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) and even recurrent sub-concussive impacts to degenerative brain and neurological conditions such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The narrative to which “League of Denial” owes its name and which is the centerpiece of the legal argument that resulted in a $ 1 billion class action settlement against the League — namely, that the NFL knew of the relationship between the sport and CTE but suppressed the evidence — is no longer tenable. Even though the settlement allows the NFL to disavow any wrongdoing ,,,

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