Concussions in Professional Soccer: What Needs To Be Done?

Three concussions occurred during the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and all three players put their careers and lives at risk by continuing to play. Here's what can be done to prevent the mental health of professional soccer players.

Concussions in Professional Soccer: What Needs To Be Done?
Christoph Kramer suffering a concussion during the 2014 FIFA World Cup championship game. (Photo via Reuters.

Headaches. Depression. Amnesia. Failure to fully concentrate.

Those are effects of post-concussion syndrome that 20-year old Kari Grandstaff deals with on a daily basis.

While a sophomore at Novi High School in Novi, Michigan, she suffered a concussion while playing indoor soccer. She was tripped up by an opponent she had gotten into an argument with earlier in the match. Grandstaff fell face-first onto ground and was knocked unconscious.

For those unfamiliar with indoor soccer, there is a thin layer of turf over a large layer concrete, meaning Kari basically fell face-first onto rock solid concrete.

"I went to the hospital, got diagnosed with a case-four concussion and came out the next day thinking that it was just a concussion - like I'll be back at it in a week," says Grandstaff, now a freshman at Ohio State University. "Little did I know that was not the case."

By the time her junior year rolled around and she was concussion free for five months, Grandstaff returned to playing her soccer, her favorite sport. Sadly, her first game back would be her last.

"My body just shut down on me. I immediately got a headache and have had a headache ever since that day."

Kari was forced to give up the sport she loves, and became depressed. She struggled to maintain good grades in school, and lost many friends who did not believe she was really suffering.

She's not the only one

Christoph Kramer, a 23-year old German midfielder, brutally slammed his head into the shoulder of Argentinian Ezequiel Garay during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final. The force of the hit spun Kramer around, and he was knocked unconscious.

However, he gathered himself, refused to be taken out of the match, and played on.

This wasn’t the first time we saw a situation like this in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Uruguay’s Alvaro Pereira, while battling for the ball, took a knee to head after attempting a slide tackle. Pereira was knocked unconscious and later stated “It felt like the lights went out.”

However, he gathered himself, refused to be taken out of the match, and played on.

Later in the tournament, Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano bumped heads with a Dutch player while attempting to head the ball. He became dizzy and fell to the ground.

However, he gathered himself, refused to be taken out of the match, and played on.

These three talented players but their celebrated careers -- and possibly their lives -- at risk by continuing to play with a concussion. But little did they know. And care.

The potential consequences

If an athlete continues to play with a concussion, they could suffer Second-Impact Syndrome (SIS). The brain rapidly beings to swell, and the player suffers a second concussion before the results of the first concussion have completely kicked in. It can happen within minutes, and it could have happened to Kramer, Pereira, or Mascherano.

Second-Impact Syndrome is very rare, but will kill you right on the spot.

Around 85% of people who have suffered a concussion(s) will not suffer from post-concussion syndrome, according to Dr. David Kauffman, the Chair of Neurology at Michigan State University.

With that being said, a good majority of soccer players are not at risk of suffering the long-term effects of a concussion.

However, there is no way to detect if you, like Grandstaff, will be a part of the 15% who suffer from post-concussion syndrome, so any potential concussion needs to be closely monitored.

What FIFA and other soccer organizations can do

It’s understandable when a player, suiting up for their country in their greatest soccer tournament in the world, does not want to come out of the match if they potentially have a concussion. They feel they may have let their country down.

The player probably isn't aware of the possible long-term effects of a concussion and the possibly of pertaining Second-Impact Syndrome. Therefore, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) needs to educate their players, coaches, and team officials on the brutal effects of a concussion.

Adding neurologists, doctors who specialize in the brain, to the sidelines for every match will allow immediate diagnosis of a possible concussion right on the spot.

If a player is hearing that he has a concussion and could risk his career and life by continuing to play from an expert of brain and not a team physician, I'm sure he or she will be more cautious and will more than likely accept to be removed from the match.

If you're thinking all players should wear patted headgear like a few goalkeepers do, it would do little to help. If you take an egg and shake the egg, the yoke inside gets swirled up, and the shell doesn't do anything to prevent the yoke from swirling up. It's the same case with the brain, as padded headgear doesn't do anything to prevent the brain from rapidly rotating from one side of the head to the other (which goes on during a concussion). While it does help, the head gear won't completely prevent a concussion.

A goalie wearing padded headgear (Photo courtesy of Graham Wallace)

A goalie wearing protective head gear (Photo courtesy of The Red Line Project)

FIFA also has a substitution rule that allows a team to only substitute three players during a match. Had the coaches of Germany, Uruguay, and Argentina taken the concussed players out of the match, his whole strategy he spent weeks, maybe even months preparing, is now altered. The coach may not want to take the player out of game due to his strategy and how that player will be used in the game. To fix this, FIFA needs to grant a concussion-clause, allowing a player with a possible concussion to be substituted without costing his team a substitution.

It will take many efforts to bring rules into effect regarding concussions and head injuries in professional soccer. Taylor Twellman, an ESPN soccer analyst, was a professional soccer player who was forced to retire due to concussions. He has since become the leader in bringing concussion reform to FIFA, and tweeted “Before I die, I will get FIFA to change their ways and get an independent doctor on the sideline,” he tweeted after the head injury suffered by Christoph Kramer.

Before FIFA will have to deal with a concussion lawsuit that could cost them millions, they need to make great leaps to protect the mental health of their world class athletes. Soccer is such a beautiful game, and we don’t need FIFA’s ugly approach to concussions affecting the sport’s reputation and love.