SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Whether is on the gridiron, the ice, or in the ring, every time those athletes lace up they become vulnerable to head trauma and concussions. We most closely associate injuries of that nature with the likes of football, hockey, and combats sports, like boxing due to their aggressive nature.
In more serious cases, repeated concussions or head trauma in athletes has recently been shown to lead to the brain degenerative condition called C.T.E. or chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
The condition itself is only able to be diagnosed by autopsy, however, people with CTE often suffer in life from memory loss, lack of impulse control, aggression, forms of dementia, suicidal ideation, and anxiety.
It is commonly seen in ex-NFL players, most notably the effect it had on the life and career of Aaron Hernandez, but a recent brain scan on a former Major League Soccer player gives reason to believe it can be just as prevalent on the pitch
Scott Vermillion, a former defender in the M.L.S. who played four years with the Kansas City Wizards, Colorado Rapids and D.C. United, died in 2020 at the age of 44. He died of a drug overdose 19 years after his playing career had ended.
On Tuesday the family of Vermillion revealed that the brain scan showed he was diagnosed with stage 2 C.T.E. by researchers at the Boston University C.T.E. Center (the same center that diagnosed Hernandez with stage 4 C.T.E.).
The news sparks concerns about whether the game of soccer has been overlooked when it comes to head trauma.
“I think when you are comparing it to American football and hockey, yes, it seems less aggressive and physical,” Kaio DaSilva, Center Back for Syracuse Pulse said, “But in every interaction when someone is trying to take the ball away from you, or a ball is in flight, or you’re going to contest for it, there’s physical contact.”
Syracuse Pulse Captain Michael Kafari agreed, saying even though he has been fortunate in his career to avoid concussions, people he has played with have not been as lucky.
“I do remember vividly growing up having teammates in college and club soccer who had to stop playing because they have had multiple concussions.”
But he says in soccer, concussions come from two things. The first is improper technique when it comes to heading a ball but also players not being prepared for physical contact.
“The majority of concussions I’ve seen come out of sort of a blindside, guys not, you know, ready for the impact.”
Even though concussions do happen on the pitch, they aren’t the main cause of concern for Dr. Anne McKee, Director of Boston University’s C.T.E. Center.
“You can get concussions in soccer, but it’s not the major problem that we find that leads to CTE,” McKee said, “It’s really these little hits, that what we call the sub concussive hits that over time can also cause damage to the brain.”
DaSilva adds that in soccer sometimes you can prepare for a more physical match based on the knowledge of your opponent’s style of play, but just like any sport the script can flip quickly.
“That’s the thing with sports,” he said, “There is always that variable that something can happen, and with soccer its so unpredictable.”
One measure already being enforced started in 2015 when the U.S. Soccer Federation issued new guidelines banning or limiting players heading the ball based on their age.
For example, any player under the age of 10 is no longer allowed to head a ball in practice or a game. This is in hopes that less of these smaller head injuries will occur throughout a players career thus ensuring a healthier brain later on in life.