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.