A rise in the number of concussions among youth soccer players, particularly girls, has led health officials and sports organizations to recommend a ban on “heading” the ball. Heading is considered an important move for most players, but research suggests that the risk of injury it poses to young players is greater than any benefit the move may have for the game. Some youth soccer organizations have already banned the practice for their teams.
The Hartford Courant reports that children and teenagers receive treatment in hospital emergency rooms for around 175,000 concussions and other traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) related to sports every years. Other estimates place the number as high as 300,000. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of sports-related TBIs in children and teens has gone up by sixty percent in the past decade. High school football, which is almost exclusively a male sport, accounts for the highest number of TBIs each year, with about 55,000. Girls’ soccer ranks second, with 29,000 TBIs reported per year, more than in all levels of boys’ soccer combined. The single-greatest cause of concussions in youth soccer players, researchers have found, is heading the ball. The impact of the ball and the player’s head is only part of the risk, along with the fact that players attempting to head the ball often collide with one another.
Although a concussion is considered a mild form of TBI, a single concussion can have long-term, debilitating effects if not treated properly. Many youth soccer players suffer multiple concussions over their soccer career. NBC Sports reported that some studies found a higher incidence of brain damage among adult players who frequently headed the ball, and estimated that amateur adult players head the ball an average of 1,000 to 1,500 times every year.
A New Jersey teenager settled a products liability lawsuit this week for $14.5 million. The teen was severely injured during a baseball game, when a ball hit off an aluminum bat struck him in the chest, ultimately causing irreversible brain damage. At issue in the lawsuit was his claim that aluminum bats can cause balls to fly much faster than wooden bats, and that the additional speed is unsafe.
During a June 2006 Police Athletic League baseball game in Wayne, New Jersey, 12 year-old Steven Domalewski was pitching. A batter, using an aluminum bat from about forty-five feet away, hit a line drive that hit Steven in the chest. The ball happened to hit him in the instant between heartbeats, and the impact caused cardiac arrest. Steven fell to the ground, stopped breathing, and lost consciousness. A bystander began to administer CPR, and paramedics arrived within minutes. They tried to give him oxygen on the way to the hospital, but his brain had been deprived of oxygen for fifteen to twenty minutes, causing extensive damage. Steven spent more than eight months in the hospital, and he has required extensive physical therapy and rehabilitation since then. He is now eighteen years old and has reportedly shown some improvement.
Awareness of concussions as a serious health risk in sports, particularly youth sports, has quickly grown in recent years. Many coaches and athletic officials recognize that contact sports, particularly hockey and football, pose risks of seriously debilitating injuries to players. This awareness has also brought an understanding of the extensive recovery needs of athletes suffering from concussions. That said, athletes continue to sustain concussions at an alarming rate. Training and education regarding concussions and traumatic head injuries are mandatory for coaches in several states, including Connecticut. Personal injury attorneys are helping injured athletes obtain compensation for damages when their injuries result from negligence or defective equipment.
An article published recently in a Canadian medical journal addressed concussions among young hockey players in very blunt terms, asking if such concussions amount to “child abuse.” Hockey officials have reportedly implemented new rules, including a “no tolerance” rule prohibiting contact with a player’s head. Officials are also promoting education about how to prevent concussions and how to properly treat a player suffering from one. Whether these measures are enough remains to be seen.
A former high school football linebacker has settled a lawsuit against the school district where he used to play for $4.4 million. Scott Eveland, now 22 years old, suffered traumatic brain injury during a 2007 game that left him confined to a wheelchair, able to communicate only through a specially-designed computer keyboard or iPad. He had previously settled a suit against the company that manufactured his helmet. His suit against the school district alleged negligence on the part of coaching staff for ignoring or failing to recognize his injuries prior to the game.
On September 14, 2007, Eveland reportedly asked the school’s athletic trainer if he could sit out the first quarter of a game, complaining of a severe headache that had already caused him to miss some practice. A student trainer who claimed to be present testified at a deposition in 2010 that she heard the trainer relay the request to the coach, and heard the coach respond, using an expletive, that only he would decide who would or would not play in the game. In deposition testimony, both the coach and the trainer denied having this conversation.
Eveland started the game, but only played for thirty minutes before collapsing on the field. After he was rushed to the hospital, he required emergency surgery to remove part of his skull. He spent several weeks recovering in the hospital, but unfortunately the bleeding in his brain had caused excessive damage. He can only communicate by typing on a specialized keyboard, and he requires help supporting his elbow to do that.
The death of a young baseball player in Illinois has demonstrated the need for comprehensive data on youth sports injuries. Extensive data are available for high school and collegiate sports, but not for participants in sports who are younger than high school age even though they face many of the same risks of injuries. In addition to injuries from accidents and ordinary game play, children face the risk of injury from faulty or defective athletic equipment, particularly protective gear.
A 12 year-old baseball player from Oswego, Illinois died on April 12, 2012 due to an injury sustained during a game. Eric Lederman was warming up on the side of the field, playing catch with a teammate. The ball reportedly struck him in the neck, hitting his carotid artery. He collapsed immediately, and was taken to the hospital. Doctors pronounced him dead shortly after 8:00 p.m. that night. They ruled the death an accident, the result of head trauma causing a cerebral hemorrhage.
Lederman had played baseball for five years, including three years with the league’s traveling team. He played center field, third base, and catcher. He was reportedly warming up for the catcher position at the time of the accident. A league spokesperson did not know if he was wearing protective gear, or if it would have made any difference if he were. The league has reviewed its safety regulations in response to Lederman’s death, and they have conducted a safety inspection of all their equipment.
The big news this summer in the field of concussions and brain injuries was the lawsuit commenced in July by 75 former professional football players against the NFL alleging the league knew as early as the 1920s of the harmful effects of concussions on players’ brains, but concealed the information from players, coaches, trainers and others until June 2010.
However, less well known is the quiet impact that Connecticut’s student athlete concussion law, effective July 2010, has had on the safety of high school football players.
Among other requirements, the law requires interscholastic and intramural coaches in Connecticut to take a course on concussions. One of the key goals is to teach coaches how to identify the symptoms of a concussion after a player takes a hit to head, and to determine whether the player should be pulled from the game.