Nick Mercer: Heading the blame away from goal

23 Jul

“Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.” – Gary Lineker

Sunday’s game was scoreless into the 112th minute, but still an exciting one with an attacking, offensive mindset for both teams. That said, I am not writing this post to give an unqualified analysis of the final. I am not even analyzing FIFA’s approach to concussions. Everyone who watched saw Christoph Kramer collapse after colliding with Ezequiel Garay’s shoulder. This was a particularly nasty collision, but by no means the only, or even most, blatant example of brain injury in this World Cup. Not a week before, Argentina midfielder, Javier Mascherano also received a decidedly hard blow to the head after colliding with Dutch midfielder, Georginio Wijnaldum. Then there’s Uruguay’s Alvaro Pereira who was actually knocked out before continuing to play!

Another incident caught my attention in Sunday’s final when Germany’s Thomas Müller banged heads with an Argentine defender as they both attempted to head the ball. The defender (I don’t know who it was) was down for a while after they collided and Müller was reaching for his head. Nevertheless, as is now customary, both continued to play.

Blame seems ridiculous, since it can rationally be shifted around in a never-ending circle. It’s pointless for the same reasons. Yes, teams and doctors could do more. Yes, FIFA could write new rules. Yes, players should be taught the dangers of continuing to play. They should be taught this from a young age. The blame goes to ‘them’ and ‘they’, but what about ‘us’?

Personally, I enjoy watching football (or soccer, as we North Americans say), but I watch very little, especially compared to harder hitting American football – where men in full body armour slam into each other and brain injury seemingly occurs every play. Hockey is the same; full body armour, collisions, brain injury. People seem to forget what protection all of the padding provides. When two athletes collide without padding it hurts a lot more (that’s why padding is used) and it hurts both individuals. It also means that in rugby or Aussie Rules Football, where such padding isn’t used, there is a tendency more toward technique, not trying to lay the opponent out every play, because a hard collision is a hard collision for both athletes. But I digress.

Injury in sports and life will happen. Brain injury in sports and life will happen. It’s not about how brain injury is dealt with in sports, it’s about how it’s dealt with in life. Pressure is placed on governing bodies like FIFA, the NFL, the NHL to do something. As the top bodies of their respective sports, they set standards to strive for. Consequences don’t start and end there. The onus is on the rest of us to be aware and learn.

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One Response to “Nick Mercer: Heading the blame away from goal”

  1. Educator Mom July 23, 2014 at 12:59 #

    “Brain injury in sports and life will happen.” You are right in that there is no way to make our world injury free. My concern is that when the athletes and organizations at the highest level deal with brain injury in such a cavalier manner as was demonstrated in the World Cup, what is it communicating to younger athletes who do not have the maturity to make a potentially life threatening or life altering decision to return to a game or not? My oldest son deals everyday with a life altering brain injury. His younger brother is passionate about the sport of soccer and plays year round. His eyes were glued to the World Cup games this summer. And as I saw injury after injury ignored and player after player return to the game, I wondered if my son, if he ever experienced a blow to the head, would remember the facts we have shared with him and the life his brother now leads or if he would remember the “tenacity” of his favorite players as they returned to the game in spite of their obvious injuries. I know it is a culture that needs to change but it was disappointing to watch the World Cup and see how very far we still have to go.

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