By: Heather MacGillivray on 08/04/14

 

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/aquilaonline/

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/aquilaonline/

Sport concussions have been a major issue in recent years. On July 7, 2014, U.S. District Judge Anita Brody preliminarily approved the settlement between the National Football League (NFL) and the class of former players who suffered the effects of concussions.

The revised settlement has no cap on overall compensation for former players and pays former players depending on their age and condition.[i] Despite the settlement’s approval, concussions remain a serious issue. In professional soccer, a number of injuries in the recent Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup moved the issue further into the spotlight.[ii]

 

FIFA is Ignoring Concussions

Just over 16 minutes and 30 seconds into the FIFA World Cup Final between Germany and Argentina, German player Christoph Kramer’s head collided into the shoulder of one of his Argentine opponents. Kramer was knocked to the ground and appeared groggy and confused immediately following the hit—telltale signs of a concussion.

As the camera panned to show the team doctor examining Kramer, you can hear an announcer ask: “Can you properly assess [a concussion] in a couple of minutes?”[iii] The answer to that question is no. Nonetheless, FIFA continues to ignore the risks associated with allowing players to continue to play while they are concussed, despite the strides made in concussion research in recent years.

Kramer returned to the game and continued to play for another 15 minutes until he slumped to the ground and had to be helped off the field. When incidents like the Kramer injury occur, FIFA is exposing itself to liability.

In the wake of the NFL’s concussion crisis, the viewers, players and former players have been educated as to the signs and symptoms of a concussion. When players return to the field appearing concussed, everyone else seems to be aware of the fact that something is wrong.[iv]

Kramer’s return to the field highlighted FIFA’s faulty concussion protocol.[v] Unlike the NFL’s new concussion protocol, which requires that an independent physician on the sideline evaluate players, FIFA places the responsibility to evaluate a player for a concussion on the team doctor.[vi]

Not only are FIFA doctors employed by the team, but players often have the opportunity to “overrule” the doctor’s diagnosis and recommendation as Alvaro Pereira, a Uruguayan player, did following a collision in a game against England.

Furthermore, FIFA’s substitution policy has been largely criticized for exposing players to further danger. As it stands now, substitutions are permanent—once a player is taken out of the game, he will not be permitted to return.

The team is also limited to three substitutions per game. The substitution restrictions implicitly force players to forego proper concussion evaluations in order to prevent substitutions.[vii] A concussed player who continues to play is exposed to the potentially fatal second-impact-syndrome, which occurs when an already concussed player suffers a second concussion.

FIFA Could Face Lawsuits

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/60278244@N00/

MLS rookie concussed. Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/60278244@N00/

A number of players in various sports have followed the lead of former NFL players in suing the leagues for allowing them to play following a concussion. Soccer has not been immune to these types of lawsuits. In February 2014, former Portland Timbers player Eddie Johnson filed a lawsuit against his former team for $9.9 million.[viii]

The defendants named in Johnson’s complaint include the Timbers, the company that does business as the Timbers, and the team physicians and trainers. Johnson suffered two concussions in an 11-day span during the 2011 season. He was allowed to play during the 2012 season.

The complaint alleges that the team doctors had a duty to make sure Johnson did not return to play too quickly and that the team doctors violated the return-to-play protocol. Moreover, Johnson alleges that the defendants breached their duty by failing to properly evaluate Johnson following his concussions and by allowing him to play during the 2012 season. As a result of this breach, Johnson alleges that he suffers permanent brain injuries and long-term concussion symptoms.[ix]

Former D.C. United player, Bryan Namoff, also filed a lawsuit against his former team seeking $12 million in damages for the permanent brain injury he received as the result of playing while concussed.[x]

If FIFA fails to adopt stricter return-to-play guidelines that require independent medical evaluations, FIFA could also face lawsuits resembling those brought against individual Major League Soccer teams and the NFL. It is likely that injured players would argue that FIFA has a duty to protect the players from further injury and that by failing to adopt stricter return-to-play protocols FIFA breached that duty.

Similar to the NFL lawsuit, soccer players could also argue that FIFA blatantly ignores research, which highlights the risks of playing while concussed, by allowing obviously concussed players to remain in the game.

In the wake of the concussion crisis at the FIFA World Cup, it is imperative that return-to-play protocols not only be adopted but also be taken seriously by soccer clubs around the world.

 

 


[i] See Federal Judge Approved NFL Concussion Settlement, Associated Press (July 7, 2014, 5:29 PM), http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap2000000363672/article/federal-judge-approves-nfl-concussion-settlement (reporting settlement and describing terms).

[ii] See Stephanie Gosk and Kevin Monahan, World Cup Injuries Spark Soccer Concussion Debate, NBC News (July 14, 2014, 7:37 AM), http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/world-cup/world-cup-injuries-spark-soccer-concussion-debate-n154911 (discussing suspected concussions that occurred during World Cup).

[iii] See Josh Levin, Latest World Cup Head Injury Shows FIFA Really, Really Doesn’t Care About Concussions, Slate (July 13, 2014, 4:05 PM), http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_spot/2014/07/13/christoph_kramer_latest_world_cup_head_injury_shows_fifa_really_really_doesn.html (providing story and videos on soccer concussions debate).

[iv] See id. (noting debate surrounding concussion evaluations on sidelines).

[v] See Juliet Macur, FIFA’s Dazed and Dated Attitude, NY Times, July 16, 2014, at B13, available athttp://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/16/sports/soccer/world-cup-2014-christoph-kramers-head-injury-brings-fifas-problem-to-the-forefront.html?_r=0 (criticizing FIFA’s concussion protocol as “misguided” and calling for change following Kramer’s injury).

[vi] See Levin, supra note 3 (describing FIFA concussion protocol and quoting reporter Juliet Macur).

[vii] See Levin, supra note 3 (criticizing FIFA’s substitution policy). See also Gerald Imray, Kramer Head Injury Revives Concussion Concerns, Kan. City Star (July 13, 2014, 3:03 PM), http://www.kansascity.com/living/health-fitness/article721870.html (noting concussion policy in top-level rugby which allows temporary substitution when player needs concussion evaluation).

[viii] See Kevin O’Riordan, Eddie Johnson Files Concussion Lawsuit Against the Portland Timbers, Bus. of Soccer (Feb. 10, 2014), http://www.businessofsoccer.com/2014/02/10/eddie-johnson-files-concussion-lawsuit-against-the-portland-timbers/ (describing lawsuit).

[ix] See generally id. (stating allegations made by Johnson).

[x] See Namath Launches $12M Lawsuit, Associated Press, http://msn.foxsports.com/foxsoccer/mls/story/bryan-namoff-launches-lawsuit-against-dc-united-and-coach-thomas-soehn-083012 (last updated May 21, 2014, 7:00 PM) (reporting Namoff filed lawsuit against former team).

 

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