Uruguay’s Alvaro Pereira made a terrible misjudgment during the World Cup match against England. Whereas I know he was trying to help his team win a World Cup match, his decision to keep playing after suffering a concussion may have long-term consequences for his own cognitive health. Unfortunately, he also may end up serving as the wrong type of role model for the youth in his country and others around the world who are playing soccer and who want to follow in his footsteps so they can compete at the highest international level.
In Thursday’s game, Pereira took an accidental knee to his head while defending against England midfielder Raheem Sterling. Pereira crumpled to the ground where he remained motionless and seemed to have lost consciousness. After the team’s medical staff revived him, they took him to the sidelines and said that he needed to come out of the game. However, Pereira was determined to return to the match. In fact, he physically pushed the medical staff away and ran back on the field. Sadly, his coach sided with the Uruguay player, as opposed to the medical professionals.
I agree with many others who decry the player’s action. “Pereira's blatant disregard for medical attention sets a dangerous precedent in a sport where head clashes are common when players jump for the ball in a contest,” wrote Tom Decent of the Sydney Morning Herald.
It has been reported that FIFA, the governing body for the World Cup, has an independent doctor at every venue. That doctor has the power to send players off the field if they display symptoms of a concussion. However, the doctor didn’t intervene at all in this case.
Fortunately, many soccer leagues are taking proactive measures to protect players against the aftermath of concussions – and are actually following their rules. On one league, a player who is involved in a heavy contact incident must be checked by a head trainer. If he displays one or more of five concussion symptoms, he must be removed from the game. In another league, a player who has suffered a blow to his head can be assessed for 20 minutes. If the player is cleared, he can return to the game.
And increasingly, researchers are learning the dangers that soccer players face when they suffer concussions. For instance, researchers have linked the head traumas suffered in soccer to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is the same brain disease behind the professional football players’ successful lawsuit against the National Football League. ABC News reported that soccer player Patrick Grange died more than two years ago. An autopsy found that the 29-year-old’s brain had CTE and the frontal lobe of his brain was badly damaged. CTE also has been linked to dementia and depression.
When you really think about these findings, it should come as no surprise that soccer players are at risk. For example, in one of soccer’s most exciting plays – the header – the ball travels up to 70 miles per hour. Players hit the ball directly with their heads and aren’t wearing any protective gear. Thus, this contact makes the header quite dangerous for the brain.
According to the Sports Concussion Institute, between 5-10 percent of athletes will experience a concussion during any given sports season. However, fewer than 10 percent of these concussions involve a loss of consciousness during which an athlete blacks out or sees stars. Instead, the most common symptoms immediately following concussions are headaches (85 percent) and dizziness (between 70-80 percent). And almost half of athletes who suffer a concussive blow do not report experiencing any symptoms.
Armed with these facts, you should be prepared while watching the World Cup games with someone who plays soccer to encourage them to be vigilant about checking for concussions. Tell them that Pereira’s decision was a bad one and that if they are knocked out during a game, they need to take the appropriate steps to protect their brain. Yes, a win is great, but long-term cognitive health needs to be the ultimate and most important goal.
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
ABC News. (2014). Concussions, brain damage linked to soccer.
Decent T. (2014). Alvaro Pereira, knocked out then raring to go. The Sydney Morning Herald.
Sports Concussion Institute. (ND). Concussion facts.
Published On: June 20, 2014