As a brain-injury awareness advocate, the Morgan Brian – Alexander Popp collision at the Women’s World Cup Soccer Tournament has been on my mind a lot lately. I know that soccer is big business and, just as in football, it has been difficult for the powers-that-be in the sport to come to terms with concussions. They aren’t convinced that concussions like the one that happened last week merit taking the player out of the game. They just aren’t aware of the stealthy ways brain injury will rob players of their edge. They don’t get it yet that hits and repeated hits assault sharpness of thought, vision, and hearing. Progress on this front is slow because soccer is big business.
I was in marketing for 20 years before I became a speech-language pathologist, so I get it. When I saw an article in Fortune Magazine today it jumped out at me because of this intersection of my personal interests in brain injury, marketing, and cognitive communication rehabilitation. The writer, Gwen Moran, attended the World Cup match with her daughter and friends who played youth soccer and could empathize. Her article made the case for soccer as an industry worth billions as a professional sport and an obsession with kids who play and their parents. I know I’ve spent a fair amount of money on soccer shoes, uniforms, juice boxes and oranges, summer soccer camps, and you name it when my two children were youth soccer players. Friends whose kids were on travel teams spent lots more.
So Moran makes a good point when she says that we have come to stand on some shaky ethical ground these days. The sport is a thriving industry and children and parents alike feed the beast. We ignore safety due to our zeal and drive to play and participate. “Youth soccer is supposed to be about health, fitness and the positive lessons organized sports can teach. So, what are we doing to our girls?” said Moran.
My business side applauds the family-friendly recreation business that is soccer. My brain injury awareness side shouts “Stop the game! Don’t you know what you’re doing to young athletes quality of life and future prospects?”
As always, there is a middle path and we are slowly but surely making our way toward safer soccer. Former soccer pro Brandi Chastain is working with Chris Nowinski’s Sports Legacy Institute to advance the Safer Soccer initiative. Ali Krieger’s concussion headband is in the news. Although we don’t know how much they help yet, the headbands are widely available at a reasonable price. Concussion education is also highly vaunted. Parents push coaches and trainers to be more concussion-conscious and to have the right knowledge and equipment at hand.
Finally, Moran makes the point that is the responsibility of this billion-dollar industry to put some money back on the table for research into things like those headbands and rules changes that protect players. “An industry that profits from the effort and commitment of children owes it to them to invest in protecting them from preventable injuries.”
We can all say GOOAALL Moran on that point. Parents are key, but they will not prevail easily when positioned opposite the powerful player that is big business.