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Brain Injuries in Soccer

By: Joseph Cammarata

A recent study conducted by Boston University and the VA Boston Healthcare System has discovered the first documented case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in a soccer player. The case involves 29-year-old Patrick Grange of Albuquerque, an athlete who played soccer in college and top-tier amateur and semi-professional leagues. Grange died in April 2012 after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Brain Injuries in Soccer

Grange's CTE – which was rated as Stage 2 on a four-point scale of severity – is a compelling indication that serious, long-term brain damage can occur in sports not known for violent collisions. Aside from experiencing several concussions throughout his career, Grange was also a frequent "header," meaning that he routinely bounced the soccer ball off of his head during play.

CTE in Sports

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – a degenerative brain disease associated with repeated head trauma – is most commonly found in athletes who participate in heavy contact sports, such as football, boxing, and hockey. With the expansion of brain injury research, however, CTE is now being discovered in athletes playing other sports. In December, for example, Ryan Freel became the first baseball player to be diagnosed with CTE. The disease is associated with depression, memory loss, and progressive dementia.

Our Firm's Role in Fighting Preventable Athlete Injuries

At Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, our personal injury lawyers have represented many athletes who experienced traumatic brain injuries, as well as many individuals who suffered concussions outside of sports. Currently, we are representing a professional soccer player formerly with D.C. United who suffered a concussion and was allowed to return to play before his concussive symptoms had resolved. It is the first case of its kind involving the premature return to play of a soccer player who had suffered a concussion.

Allowing the player to return to the field was a violation of established return-to-play guidelines that provide a standard of care for permitting an athlete to return to practice or play following a concussion. The standard requires a gradual symptom-free return to physical activity over a period of approximately one week. Because he was allowed to return to play prematurely, this particular athlete continues to suffer from the effects of the concussion, including visual disturbances and headaches. His doctors believe his condition is permanent. As a result, he is permanently unable to return to professional sports and is incapable of being gainfully employed.

For our legal team, this case is an example of a long-term injury that could have been prevented had responsible parties been more concerned about the health of their players and adhered to established guidelines. Because they did not, however, an athlete has suffered life-altering harm. No matter the sport or level of play, an athlete's premature return to practice or play after a concussion can have devastating consequences. We have seen this many times as injury lawyers, and always fight to protect the rights of injured athletes and brain injury victims by holding responsible coaches, leagues, trainers, or team doctors accountable.

In addition to fighting on behalf of brain injury victims, we have also been proactive in working to prevent concussions in sports. I drafted legislation, which became law in the District of Columbia, called the Athletic Concussion Protection Act of 2011, which is designed to protect youth athletes in the District of Columbia from the effects of a concussion. The law establishes guidelines for a youth athlete's removal from practice or play if he/she is suspected of having a concussion. The athlete cannot be returned to practice or play unless cleared by a licensed or certified health care provider. The law also establishes training and certification for coaches, trainers and school personnel, and educational requirements for athletes and their parents or guardians, each before they care allowed to coach or participate in an athletic activity, which includes physical education classes. The law governs all athletic activity for youth athletes in the District of Columbia, including public, private, and charter schools, and youth leagues.

For more information about brain injuries in sports, contact a Washington, DC personal injury attorney from Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel at 202-644-8303.