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Concussion – Professional Football is ignoring the dangers

Anyone who watched the Chelsea v Arsenal game last weekend won’t forget the collision between Chelsea midfielder Oscar, and Arsenal goalkeeper Ospina in a hurry. The collision was hard, and Oscar looked clearly dazed and confused as a result of the impact, showing sure signs of concussion such as the fencing response. The collision happened in the 16th minute of the game, yet Oscar was allowed to continue playing until half time before he was taken to hospital for a scan, leaving many questioning whether professional football is doing enough to take care of its players who suffer concussion or head injuries. The fencing response can be used as an indicator of head injury and refers to the unnatural position of the arms following a concussion. After moderate force is applied to the brainstem, such as in a collision or knockout, the forearms are held flexed or extended in the air for several seconds as a result of the trauma. This was clearly shown in the case of Oscar as you can see below. This isn’t the first time professional football has been under scrutiny in terms of head injuries and a BBC Sport article in November 2014 raised concern that concussion was not being taken seriously enough. The article quotes two leading brain injury experts who state that FIFA is “light years behind” Rugby Union with handling head injuries and that a serious change needs to be made. Concerns seem to fall on deaf ears to those controlling professional football however as is shown in the case of Jeff Astle, a professional footballer who died in 2002 due to repeatedly heading the old fashioned leather ball causing repeated minor trauma to Astle’s head. In 2014, a campaign was started by Jeff’s daughter called `Justice for Jeff` which called for an enquiry of the link between degenerative brain disease and heading footballs. It was later claimed by a neurosurgeon that Astle’s death was the result of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (C.T.E) disease that was previously associated with boxer’s who were repeatedly punched in the head. Even as recently as the last World Cup in Brazil, we saw instances of well known players such as Mascherano, Periera and Kramer all playing on despite suffering a head trauma. Dr Hans-Wilhelm Mûller-Wohlfahrt, one of the most experienced physicians in sports examined Kramer and deemed him fit to play on, even though 15 minutes later a still groggy Kramer was taken off the pitch clearly not sure where he was. It is argued that footballs today are lighter and do not absorb as much moisture as leather balls in the past and so do not cause as much injury when heading the ball. However the argument still stands that the speed of play has increased and players now are jostled and nudged more than in the past and so are not able to make clear and direct contact with the ball as easily. This can lead to head trauma in some instances. Coupled with this, we have instances such as the one last Sunday where a player is knocked out after a collision and allowed to play on, despite clearly showing signs of concussion. The FIFA concussion recognition tool available on the FIFA website states as visible signs of a suspected concussion: Loss of consciousness or responsiveness Lying motionless on the ground/slow to get up Dazed/blank/vacant look Unsteady on feet, balance problems Grabbing/clutching of head Confused/not aware of plays or events. Judge for yourself but we think that at least 4 of these signs were shown in the case of Oscar and so it does beg the question as to why he was allowed to play on for other 29 minutes?  An argument exists for professional football to re-evaluate the way they deal with head trauma and concussion at all levels of sport in order to ensure both the short terms and long term well being of players.

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