SOCCER: Ban the header!

By Christopher B. Daly 

As I have been arguing for a while, soccer has its own problem with concussions. Having played The Beautiful Game (which most of the world knows as football), I cannot imagine that heading the ball — especially after a long punt — does not cause the brain to rock inside the skull. I had at least one concussion that I can recall, and I wonder about all the thousands of routine headers all through high school and my first year of college.

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Bellini, bleeding from a head would. (Probably from a head-to-head collision, not from just heading the ball). Photo: UH/Folhapress

Now, it turns out that one of the game’s greats — Bellini of Brazil — suffered brain damage, no doubt from headers, according to researchers at Boston University. Bellini, who was Brazil’s captain in the 1958 World Cup, died recently, and his brain was examined by researchers affiliated with BU’s extensive investigation of concussions caused by sports. According to today’s Times, Bellini did not have Alzheimers but instead suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which is caused by concussions.

At the time, his death was attributed to complications related to Alzheimer’s disease. But researchers now say he had an advanced case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., which is caused by repeated blows to the head and has symptoms similar to those of Alzheimer’s.

Here’s the take-away from the Times:

Also note, as one of the Times comments does, that so far, investigators have been able to conduct autopsies on the brains of three former soccer players and found CTE in all three. So, it seems likely that CTE is common among soccer players, not rare.

Are helmets the answer? I don’t know. Maybe. But I’d like to see a simple rules change. Don’t head those balls; trap them, then kick ’em!

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Bellini (right) preparing for a header. Photo: AP

2 Comments

Filed under Boston University, concussion

2 responses to “SOCCER: Ban the header!

  1. David

    Part of the problem is that not only does the ball damage the head, but heading leads to battles in the air, resulting in lots of head to head and elbow to head, etc contact.

  2. Patrick

    Great post. When he gets bigger, I hope my son plays soccer (as I did), but that Times story has given me pause. My proposed solution is for soccer to take a page from Gaelic football and allow players to catch the ball in the air, as long as they immediately toss it back on the ground or bounce it off their foot. The alternative is wearing helmets, and nobody wants that.

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