With millions of Americans riveted to the World Cup, it’s a good moment to remind young players of the dangers of heading the ball. And it’s especially valuable that members of the 1999 US World Cup women’s championship team are raising their voices as well.
Brandi Chastain says she will not allow her son to head the ball before high school. Cindy Parlow Cone says she no longer practices heading with the 11- and 12-year-olds she coaches. Teammate Joy Fawcett, who headed in a game-winning goal during the 1999 tournament, joins her two teammates in urging that the sport ban all heading for youths under 14. They are part of a campaign co-led by the Waltham-based Sports Legacy Institute, which is associated with the Boston University center that has discovered brain injuries in athletes who played contact sports, including soccer. Parlow Cone, for one, continues to suffer headaches and fatigue because of post-concussion syndrome. Fawcett, for her part, once said heading “always hurts.”
That raises the question of whether adults, as well, should avoid it. While soccer purists erupt at the thought of changing the game, it’s an option that has to be considered as further evidence of the risk of brain damage emerges.