World Cup Finals Shows Views On Concussions Still Have A Long Way To Go

If you were watching the FIFA World Cup Final yesterday, you may have noticed one of the German players in a collision with an Argentinian on the field. He collapsed onto the ground and briefly left the pitch, only to return after a short time.

Christoph Kramer played another 14 minutes after his collision with Ezequiel Garay before he eventually slumped over and laid down on the ground. He was removed from the pitch and substituted, helped off in a clearly disoriented state.

This just shows how far the sports culture as a whole—not just American style football—must still go before it can properly deal with head injuries.

A concussion is not something that can simply be overcome with a bit of machismo. You can’t just rub some dirt on it or walk it off. Even the magic spray that seems to do everything but regenerate limbs will not heal a booboo to the brain.

Kramer’s incident was simply the most severe incident of many involving head injuries during this World Cup.

Argentina defender Javier Mascherano landed hard on the back of his head during his team’s semifinal victory over the Netherlands a few days ago. He eventually got up after being visibly disoriented for a period of time.

Though he continued to play and finished the entire game, perhaps even directly helping Argentina advance to the finals with his strong defensive play, his ability to continue on doesn’t mean that all was okay.

He put himself in serious jeopardy of further injury by continuing to play. This is true of all injuries, of course, but mental and physical debilitation are two very different things.

Many athletes to this day will continue to say that they would much rather get a concussion than blow out a knee. A knee injury could end your career, they say. It could make it difficult to walk and lead to chronic knee problems and pain later in life.

Physical debilitation in an athlete’s later years can be downright depressing. But mental debilitation can be downright terrifying.

Playing through a concussion is one of the best ways to increase your chances of developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease that leads to many other cognitive dysfunctions. The brain is much more susceptible to injury (i.e. another concussion) proximately correlated to the original event.

The fact that these and other incidents occurred during the World Cup should have the impact of opening up the eyes of an international audience that transcends specific sports. For many, it almost seems as though concussions are ‘a football thing’, but all athletes face this risk.

The reality is, however, that these events will likely be quickly swept under the rug, even if FIFA chairman Michel D’Hooge expressed unhappiness over how the injuries were handled on the field.

We know from the NFL that players lie about their condition. We know that because they say that they lie to stay on the field. At least those who aren’t thinking much about their future cognitive health.

It’s very difficult to protect players from themselves. They have a duty to their team, their teammates, and in the case of the World Cup, to their entire nation, to carry on through adversity. For a tournament that only comes around every four years, you would have to drag some players off the pitch by force to stop them.

That’s why the decision needs to be taken out of the players’ hands. Rules can be changed. If you can introduce a water break, you can allow a player to be temporarily replaced on the pitch while he gets thoroughly examined by an objective professional doctor with the authority to decide whether or not he can continue to play.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Dom

    The main difference is that in football you aren’t going to take multiple concussions in succession it is very rare for concussions to occur and the amount in this tournament far exceeds the normal amount of concussions in football games. I think the poor treatment of the concussions was down to an unfamiliarity with concussion during a game of football – which as I stated is very very rare

    It has infact been found that the main danger in football was heading the ball back when they weighed a lot more(70’s-80’s etc.) It has been shown that centre forwards and backs during these periods have many repeated small concussions which have damaged their brains in the present day, however that problem has been resolved with a new ball.

    However in American football one concussion can lead to another quite often and leaves players in far more danger than its european counterpart.

  • srdan

    football? I’m confused

  • Dom

    Sorry I’m Irish I forgot where I was for a minute, Let me just edit it.

  • srdan


  • TheBlitz

    I would agree with you that this World Cup I’ve seen more concussions than ever before. Maybe I’m just more aware of concussions and the danger it exposes players to simply because of what’s going on in today’s NFL with all the lawsuits. However, I can’t recall seeing that many in a single major tournament and I’m not a casual soccer fan.

    In fact in the group stage there was another instance when Alvaro Pereira from Uruguay was knocked unconscious after he collided with David Sterlling from England.

    FIFA should do something about it. Hopefully it will result in some measure to diagnose players before they return back to the pitch. However, I would disagree with the author of this article to introduce water breaks just to allow someone to replace the injured player. Unfortunately it will drastically change the way substitutions are used in the sport. Concussions should be considered an injury just like any other injury that happens during the course of the match.

    I would rather the injured player be replaced and not come back (if the team hasn’t used all their subs), or the team plays with a man down until the injured player can return to action. That’s not new. In the sport, sometimes players have to stay on the sideline for some time to receive treatment while their teammates play with a man down. The only variable will be the duration of the concussion diagnosis, and that will be left up to the coach to decide what he wants to do in that situation. Is he willing to wait and allow his team to play with a man down for lets say 20 mins !? Well that’s left to his discretion.

  • Dom

    They simply shouldn’t be allowed back on the pitch if there is any sign of a concussion. Maybe a free substitution for it? There was a similar situation in the Premier League this season when Lloris came back on when it was clear he shouldn’t have been on the pitch

  • TheBlitz

    What I meant is that the player can return to the match if the team doctors agree he’s ready to return back on the pitch. Just like it’s done now in today’s NFL

  • I really appreciate this piece, Matthew, because the issue of concussions needs to be taken much more seriously than it is. Sports have come a long way over the past several years, but obviously much more needs to be done, and not just in the NFL, where the league still has its head up its you-know-what even if it’s not quite as deep as it used to be.

    The fact is, soccer can be a brutal physical game. Even if headers aren’t likely to be as traumatizing with a lighter ball, there’s a lot of physical contact, and I suspect there are many more concussions than go reported. In the World Cup, obviously players are going to be even more reluctant to come out of a game, but the problem to me is with the substitution rules. I realize that soccer is a pure game, a “beautiful” game, that doesn’t require any dramatic meddling, but there are a few things that FIFA could/should embrace. There’s already technology to show if a goal has been scored, so change is possible. But why not something like a doctor-approved temporary substitution so that an examination can be conducted? That way a team wouldn’t be down to 10 and a team wouldn’t lost one of its three substitutions? Sure, teams could abuse this rule, but if the doctor were independent and his/her decision final, it might just work.

    Of course, FIFA is even more corrupt and egomaniacal than the IOC, so don’t look for anything reasonable to happen anytime soon.

  • Dom

    I was thinking that it would encourage teams to be more careful about a serious issue but if players were forced to undertake a concussion test then I agree about not having an extra sub.

  • Jon Crissinger

    With a free sub, I can see teams using this strategically to allow a player to be subbed out by even faking a head injury if their other subs were used. A team doctor could easily report head trauma.

  • MC

    I think you would be hard pressed to find someone who wouldnt go back in when its the world cup final. Concussions are far less frequent in that game too, i wouldn’t leave the pitch if the stage was that big thats for sure.