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Commentary Jun 20, 2014

LeBolt: We have a broken system when it comes to dealing with head injuries

WendyLeBolt-HeaderHere we go again. In the 60th minute of Uruguay vs England, attacking midfielder Raheem Sterling’s knee collides with defender, Alvaro Pereira’s head. We watch it in slo-mo so we can see the moment of impact, the snap back of the head, the crumpling of the player. Oh, we do love drama, don’t we?

But what comes next is just too familiar:

  • Player unconscious on field.
  • Medics rush on.
  • Doctor signals substitution.
  • Player argues.
  • Player returns to play and now with an aggression that seems to try to prove the point that there’s nothing wrong with me.

There’s something wrong with us. And by us, I mean a system that doesn’t recognize that we are our own worst enemies when it comes to injury in sport and particularly, concussion.

[ +READ: Ronaldo injury could end superstar’s World Cup participation, reports say]

How broken is a system in which one country has former NFL players suing for millions in damages because they played without knowing their risk of injury, and others allow players to continue with a known injury because the player says so? Pereira should sue!

Allowing a player who has been knocked unconscious to treat medical advice as if it’s a suggestion is ludicrous. It’s like asking the inebriated if they feel safe to drive. Why would we do this?

[ +READ: LeBolt – Jozy Altidore injury not promising for a quick return]

Now, before we get on our high horse, let’s take a different look, because calling for rule changes means the rule goes for everyone. Clint Dempsey goes up for a challenge and the boot of Ghana’s John Boye slaps him in the face. Dempsey goes down. Nose bleeding profusely and clearly broken. He continues after some treatment, but it’s not the same Dempsey in the second half.

Did anyone notice the snap back of his head on that play?

Conveniently, the medical report makes the big announcement of what we all know: “nasal fracture.” But concussion test? No word. We don’t want to hear that both of America’s strikers are down for the count. We’d rather shake our fingers at Uruguay.

Taylor Twellman, a high profile concussion awareness advocate whose pro soccer career was ended by head injury, was featured in the roundtable discussion telecast by ESPN after yesterday’s game. Twellman said that it is an “education issue.”

Yes, there’s more we need to learn and we are learning it. But whether there should be a firm policy regarding return to play after a clear injury to the head is not an education issue. We know what we need to do. We’re just not doing it.

At all levels of the game we need to stop pandering to the player who says he can play. If there are clear signs of concussion, be it Johnny in his rec game, Amanda in her high school championship, Joe in his college debut, or Alvaro in his World Cup moment, we need to have the same policy across the board. Beginning at the top. The player does not make the decision, nor does the manager, or the referee. The medical staff has the final word.

This morning Pereira has apologized to Uruguay’s team doctor, saying “It was a moment of madness. I’ve apologized to the doctor because I know it’s his job to look after the players. I went back on dizzy but, in the heat of the moment, with a hot head, you don’t think properly.”

In the morning, things always look different. Unless the morning doesn’t come.

FIFA, it’s time. In fact, it’s way past time.