TIME Sports

Heads Up: Don’t Let Soccer Concussions Fly Under the Radar

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Thania Navarro—Getty Images

Quinn Cummings is a writer of three books, Notes From the Underwire, The Year of Learning Dangerously and Pet Sounds.

Football and hockey are getting the bulk of the attention for causing brain injury, but there is research about the cumulative effects of soccer

The human skull is very durable but the brain inside is incredibly fragile–even more so if it’s the developing brain of a child or a teenager. Over the past decade, research has determined that a concussion – the trauma caused when soft, easily damaged brain tissue strikes the unyielding skull – is more dangerous than previously understood, and the effects of this trauma are more pronounced in developing brains. Research has also found that multiple concussions, no matter how small, can lead to lifetime harm. Your child’s brain, any doctor would tell you, should be treated very, very carefully.

The American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), however, has their own unique take on safety; from their website, on the page titled “Is Heading Safe“:

AYSO does not recommend heading below the age of ten. Coaches are not encouraged to teach or practice heading at these early ages.

But also:

A general rule of thumb to follow is to start teaching heading when a players show an interest, not when the coach thinks it should be taught.

So while AYSO doesn’t recommend coaches to teach the little ones headers, they don’t specifically forbid it. A coach could take this page and decide a 5 year old is ready to start head-butting an 11 to 12 ounce soccer ball into a net 10 feet away because they’re showing interest. And any passionate junior soccer player is practicing their skills at home, adding countless more headers to the ones the coach knows about.

The AYSO website correctly points out :

Studies do indicate that head-to-head contact among players, head contact with the ground, and head contact with goal posts and other associated playing equipment pose a greater risk than the simple act of heading the ball. These kinds of risk are associated with most outdoor team sports.

The association is right. Smashing one’s skull against a goal post, the ground or someone else’s head will cause more damage than hitting it against a soccer ball. But a young athlete can go an entire practice, game or even an entire season without hitting his or her head on the ground, a goal post or another skull. In soccer, heading is part of the game. And yes, football and hockey are getting the bulk of the attention right now for causing brain injury, but there is research about the cumulative effects of soccer. There are anecdotes about what a lifetime of playing soccer can do to the brain; there’s less research on what a childhood of heading a ball can do.

The brain is forgiving. It can accommodate certain amounts of trauma, but when children are now on club teams before the age of 10, playing up to nine months each year, and they are heading the ball at practice and during games, that’s a real risk to the child’s developing brain. How real? Doctor’s don’t know.

We also don’t have a good handle on the threshold needed to produce subconcussive trauma, which are blows to the head that don’t produce symptoms but do produce structural changes observable in neuroimaging.

The AYSO might be serenely certain they’re protecting our children and that everything will be fine. Maybe so. But someone should remind them the NFL used to feel that way, too.

Quinn Cummings is a writer of three books, Notes From the Underwire, The Year of Learning Dangerously and Pet Sounds. Her articles have been published in, among others, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, TIME, The Huffington Post and Good Housekeeping. She is a passionate animal lover, an indifferent housekeeper and would eat her own hand if you put salsa on it.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Soccer

Drone Invasion Halts Serbia-Albania Soccer Game

Mini drone carrying flag depicting so-called Greater Albania is flown over the pitch during their Euro 2016 Group I qualifying soccer match against Albania at the FK Partizan stadium in Belgrade
A mini drone carrying a flag depicting so-called Greater Albania, an area covering all parts of the Balkans where ethnic Albanians live, is flown over the pitch during their Euro 2016 Group I qualifying soccer match against Albania at the FK Partizan stadium in Belgrade on Oct. 14, 2014. Marko Djurica—Reuters

The two countries historically have had political tensions

Updated Wednesday, Oct. 15

Officials abandoned a soccer match between Serbia and Albania Tuesday after a drone carrying an Albanian banner was flown into the stadium, sparking brawls among players and fans.

The flag flown over the Euro 2016 qualifier game depicted Greater Albania, a conceptual state formed from all territories where ethnic Albanians live, according to Reuters. Yet many Serbs believe the region should still be united as Yugoslavia.

The banner, which was flown into the stadium near the end of the match’s first half, was soon pulled down by Serbia’s Stefan Mitrovic as punches were exchanged between players. Some fans started throwing garbage at the Albanian players.

Serbian officials on Wednesday accused Olsi Rama, the brother of Albania’s Prime Minister, of flying the drone above the field and causing the disruption, and authorities in Belgrade have arrested him, RTS reports. However, AFP reports that a source close to Rama said he had not been arrested in Belgrade.

The atmosphere was politically charged even before the match began, Fox Sports reports. The two countries have had a tense relationship since the conflict around Kosovo, the predominantly ethnically Albanian province of Serbia that was declared independent in 2008.

Serbia did not acknowledge the independence, and mediations under the European Union in 2013 led to Serbia abolishing nearly all of its political institutions in Kosovo. The game, held in the Serbian capital of Belgrade, was also Albania’s first match in the country since 1967, according to the Union of European Football Associations.

The game was abandoned after 45 minutes of unrest. The score was 0-0.

[Fox Sports]

TIME Soccer

U.S. Soccer Produces Moving Tribute to Landon Donovan’s Career

Landon Donovon prepares to play against Costa Rica during the 2014 World Cup Qualifier at Estadio Nacional on Sept. 6, 2013 in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Landon Donovon prepares to play against Costa Rica during the 2014 World Cup Qualifier at Estadio Nacional on Sept. 6, 2013 in San Jose, Costa Rica. Kevin C. Cox—Getty Images

The ceremonial end to Landon Donovan’s U.S. national team career is nearly upon us. On Friday, Donovan’s token appearance as captain against Ecuador in East Hartford, Connecticut will signal the end of a glittering career in which Donovan cemented his status as the greatest — or at least the most influential — American soccer player of all time.

There may be some controversy surrounding Donovan’s relationship with U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann at the moment, but U.S. Soccer showed its appreciation for Donovan with a moving mini-doc about Donovan’s career in the sport and on the international stage.

The seven-minute video starts with clips of Donovan as a child making other children look absolutely foolish, and ends with his seminal extra-time goal against Algeria. Along the way are a pretty incredible amount of career milestones to fit in to a seven minute video. To wit, U.S. Soccer also released a couple shorter features on individual moments: His time with the U-17 national team (teenage Donovan goes to DisneyWorld), his first cap & first goal (teenage Donovan scores vs. Mexico, freaks out), and his record-breaking goal against Sweden.

Watch the full feature below:

The article originally appeared on SI.com

TIME Soccer

Even Soccer Fans Don’t Recognize Clint Dempsey Without a Jersey

The U.S. men's soccer team captain is apparently hard to spot when not playing

Soccer player Clint Dempsey, who captained the U.S. Men’s National Team through the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, may have won the adoration of American fans on the field, but off the green he appears to be harder to spot. In fact, even soccer fans seem to have trouble recognizing America’s star soccer player out of uniform.

TIME Soccer

FIFA May Mandate Concussion Breaks in Soccer Games

Germany v Scotland - EURO 2016 Qualifier
Christoph Kramer of Germany jumps for a header Boris Streubel—Getty Images

After head injuries marred this summer's World Cup

FIFA’s medical committee proposed a new policy Tuesday that would require a three-minute stop if a player is suspected of suffering from head trauma.

“The incidents at the World Cup have shown that the role of team doctors needs to be reinforced in order to ensure the correct management of potential cases of concussion in the heat of the competition,” the committee said in a release. “The referee will only allow the injured party to continue playing with the [authorization] of the team doctor, who will have the final decision.”

The proposal has been sent to the FIFA Executive Committee, which will vote on the matter.

In this summer’s World Cup, controversy arose when Uruguay’s Alvaro Pereira was allowed to stay in the game after taking a knee to the head, while dazed German midfielder Christoph Kramer was allowed to play for 14 minutes after a collision that left him so disoriented, he asked the ref “Is this the final?” (It was).

According to the Center for Injury Research and Policy, more high school soccer players suffered from head injuries in 2010 than softball, wrestling, basketball, and baseball players combined. And these sustained injuries can have lasting health repercussions: Although Brazilian soccer star Bellini, winner of the 1958 World Cup, was thought to have died due to Alzheimer’s complications in March at age 83, new research reveals that he actually suffered from a degenerative brain disease also afflicting many boxers and football players.

 

TIME Soccer

Official Says Qatar Is Too Hot to Host World Cup

FBL-WC2014-QAT-FIFA-TROPHY
A Qatari official stands near the FIFA World Cup trophy following its arrival in Doha, on Dec. 12, 2013. Karim Jaafar—AFP/Getty Images

"Medics say that they cannot accept responsibility with a World Cup taking place under these conditions"

Qatar likely will not be hosting the 2022 World Cup, a top FIFA official said Monday. Why? The country is too hot.

“Medics say that they cannot accept responsibility with a World Cup taking place under these conditions,” Reuters reports FIFA Executive Committee member Theo Zwanziger saying. “I personally think that in the end the 2022 World Cup will not take place in Qatar.”

Qatar leaders have said they will equip stadiums, fan zones, and training areas with advanced cooling systems during the games, but Zwanziger said it won’t be enough.

“They may be able to cool the stadiums but a World Cup does not take place only there,” Zwanziger said.

A Qatari official quickly pushed back in a statement.

“Qatar will host the FIFA World Cup in 2022, despite comments of FIFA Executive Committee member Dr. Zwanziger, which reflect his personal opinion and not that of FIFA,” the official said. “The only question now is WHEN, not IF. Summer or winter, we will be ready. We have proven that a FIFA World Cup in Qatar in the summer is possible with state-of-the-art cooling technology. We have demonstrated that our cooling works in outdoor areas beyond stadiums.”

[Reuters]

TIME celebrities

David Beckham Wants Scots to Vote ‘No’

"What unites us is much greater than what divides us"

Soccer icon David Beckham has endorsed the No vote for Scottish independence, calling for the U.K. to maintain its “historic bond” ahead of its referendum this week.

“The decision on whether to leave our shared country is, of course down to you, it is not my intention to tell you what to do. Nevertheless, that decision will have a huge effect on each and every one of us in the United Kingdom,” Mr. Posh Spice wrote in an open letter supporting the Let’s Stay Together petition, according to Scottish Daily Mail political editor Alan Roden.

In the letter, which Roden tweeted on Monday, Beckham talks about the pride he felt representing the U.K. during London’s Olympic bid. More than 200 famous Brits and 10,000 citizens have signed the petition.

“My sincere hope is that you will vote to renew our historic bond which has been such a success over the centuries and the envy of the entire world,” Beckham’s letter continues. “What unites us is much greater than what divides us.”

TIME Soccer

Player-Powered Stadium Floodlights Have Been Launched in Rio

Kid plays with soccer ball at a refurbished soccer field at the Mineira slum in Rio de Janeiro
A child plays with soccer ball at a refurbished soccer field at the Mineira slum in Rio de Janeiro September 10, 2014. Ricardo Moraes —Reuters

Tiles on the field capture the kinetic energy of athletes as they run

The world’s first soccer field with floodlights powered by player movement was unveiled in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday, but it’s not at the Maracanã.

The never-before-seen technology was in fact launched at Mineira — one of the Brazilian city’s slums, AFP reports.

The technology is called Pavegen, and harvests energy from players’ footsteps using tiles made from 80% recycled material that capture kinetic energy, AFP says. Two hundred of the weatherproof tiles have been installed underneath the playing surface, and the energy from them will be supplemented by solar panels installed on the roof of a neighboring samba school.

Brazilian soccer legend Pelé, who was present for the arena’s inauguration, said the innovation represented new frontiers for the country.

“The whole world started looking at Brazil through football,” he said. “I hope that with projects such as this one, the world will start looking at Brazil through its participation in science.”

Although residents approved the project in a public vote, the cost of playing there — $20 an hour — is too steep for most in the favela, as slums are locally known.

“Today, we have to play outside our community as we can’t pay,” Bruno Olivera, a hospital worker, told AFP.

Pavegen’s chairman said the company is trying to find ways to reduce the cost of the technology.

[AFP]

MONEY Sports

How College Football Sacked the NBA and MLB

Houston football fans singing the National Anthem
Dave Einsel—AP

With the college football season upon us, it's time to take stock of just how valuable this "amateur" sport has become.

Want to know how rabid fans have become for college football?

Well, the season kicks off in earnest tonight when the South Carolina Gamecocks (ranked 9th in the country) take on the Texas A&M Aggies (ranked 21st).

The game will be played in Columbia, South Carolina, in front of 80,000 screaming fans — an amazing feat given that Columbia has a population of just 133,000. The Aggies, for their part, play in Kyle Field, which in 2015 will be able to hold almost every single College Station, Texas, resident.

Last year, the Gamecocks opened with a game against the University of North Carolina, and 3.7 million people across the country tuned in. That may not sound that impressive, but consider that Columbia is just the 77th largest television market in the U.S., behind cities like Omaha and Toledo.

There’s no doubt about it. Americans love football.

More people watched the NFL Sunday Night pregame show last year than watched the Boston Red Sox win the World Series. In fact, professional football games comprised all but four of the 50 most-watched sporting events of 2013. The National Football League is the most popular spectator sport in America.

What’s No. 2? Not the NBA, not Major League Baseball—but college football. And with college football introducing a new-fangled playoff system this year, expect America’s infatuation to only grow.

Here are a few measures of its influence.

Ratings

The 2013 NBA finals featured perhaps the most popular athlete in the world, Lebron James, as his super team battled against the San Antonio Spurs for seven unforgettable games. An average of almost 18 million viewers saw James secure his second NBA title. A few months later, 15 million baseball fans saw the Red Sox win their third championship since 2004.

How many viewers watched Florida State beat Auburn in the 2014 BCS title game? Twenty-six million, per Nielsen ratings.

This isn’t a one-off event. On average, 2.6 million people watched NCAA regular season football games last year, according to Nielsen. Take Saturday, October 5, 2013. Both the University of Georgia and Tennessee were enduring less than stellar seasons. Nevertheless, 5.6 million people tuned in to see the two Southeastern Conference schools play each another on CBS.

Viewer demand is only likely to increase. Starting this year, college football will institute a four-team playoff to decide the national champion, and rejiggered rules allow the biggest football programs more control over their finances. According to USA Today, these developments will lead to the biggest schools earning 71.5% of the $470 million annual television revenue for the playoff.

Baseball and basketball simply don’t attract as many eyeballs. About 700,000 people watched an MLB regular season game on television in 2013, and 1.4 million watched a non-playoff NBA game in the 2012-13 season. (All are based on nationally televised games.)

The total attendance for 835 NCAA Division I football games was a little more than 38 million, with a per-game attendance of 46,000. The NBA, which has almost 400 more total games in its season, drew 21 million people, while the MLB attracted 30,500 per game. (Major League Baseball has almost three times as many games and brought in a total of 74 million fans.)

Reach

Part of college football’s popularity might be its reach. While the NBA and MLB have 30 teams collected mostly around large metropolitan areas, college football programs exist where there are colleges – which is everywhere. Consider that New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco have 15 professional baseball and basketball teams. That’s a quarter of all the teams in only four cities.

Now look at NCAA football. The top five teams play in Tallahassee, Tuscaloosa, Eugene, Norman, and Columbus. While it’s true that a number of the West Coast schools play in big cities (UCLA, Stanford, and the University of Washington), most of the big-time schools are the only game in town. If you live in Boise, Idaho, do you really care about anything else the way you care about Boise State Broncos football?

Riches

There is something a bit unsettling about college football’s popularity, and corresponding affluence. A college football coach is the highest paid public employee in 27 states – including South Carolina and Texas. Alabama’s Nick Saban made more than $5.5 million last year, despite the fact that his and every other team’s players weren’t paid anything. (Many were given athletic scholarships, but those can be taken away if a “student-athlete” becomes injured. Just for some perspective: the University of Texas’s football program earned $82 million in profit last year.)

Plus, football is a dangerous game, and it’s an open question whether an institution of higher learning should even be in the business of promoting a sport that causes severe head trauma. (Google: Owen Thomas.)

College football, though, is inexorably linked to American history. The first intercollegiate game took place four years after the end of the Civil War, and the college game itself was saved by then President Teddy Roosevelt.

Otherwise normal, hard-working Americans revert to 20-year-old fanatics every fall Saturday afternoon and cheer on their alma maters. Tonight’s game in Columbia is just another page in the never-ending story of America’s love with her second-favorite sport.

TIME Soccer

Parents File Concussion Lawsuit Against FIFA, U.S. Soccer and Youth Soccer

Mascherano Head Injury FIFA Concussion
Argentina's midfielder Javier Mascherano (R) clashes heads with Netherlands' midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum resulting in Mascherano being taken off during the semi-final football match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup between Netherlands and Argentina at The Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo on July 9, 2014. Gabriel Bouys—AFP/Getty Images

The plaintiffs want to change soccer's rules to limit headers and increase substitutions

A group of American parents filed a class-action lawsuit Wednesday against six national and international soccer organizations they claim have mishandled concussion treatment at all levels of play. The plaintiffs are not seeking financial damages, but rather they hope to change the rules of the sport to better protect both children and professional players from injury.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, levies negligence charges against U.S. Soccer, the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), U.S. Youth Soccer, U.S. Club Soccer, the California Youth Soccer Association and FIFA, soccer’s international governing body. The plaintiffs say the organizations have done little to detect and treat head injuries even though they have been aware of the medical community’s years-long calls for change.

The suit seeks an injunction that would fundamentally change the way soccer is played. Currently, professional soccer leagues only allow three substitutions per game. Under the proposed new rules, professional leagues would add temporary substitutions during which an injured player could be examined for concussion symptoms. Parents also believe the rules should be changed in youth leagues so that children under 17 would only be allowed to head the ball a certain number of times per week.

FIFA is far from the first professional sports league to be sued for mishandling concussions: The National Football League, the National Hockey League and the National Collegiate Athletic Association are all currently involved in head injury litigation. Following football and hockey, the suit argues that soccer players are among the athletes most susceptible to concussions: nearly 50,000 high school soccer players suffered concussions in 2010 alone, more than in baseball, basketball, softball and wrestling combined. And two major head injuries at this summer’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil—one dealt to Argentina’s Javier Mascherano and the other to Germany’s Christoph Kramer—have helped propel the case forward.

“There is an epidemic of concussion injuries in soccer at all levels around the world, including in the United States, from youth to professionals, from elite players to children playing for the first time, women and men, girls and boys,” the suit says. “FIFA presides over this epidemic, and is one of its primary causes.”

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