Taylor Twellman’s fight against soccer’s head injury problem didn’t start with today’s piece in The Guardian, or it’s corresponding column at ESPNFC. After seeing his own playing career end because of concussions, the ESPN commentator has become the de facto spokesperson for the cause, raising awareness through his soccer celebrity and his Think Taylor foundation. Almost single-handedly, the man keeps the discussion front-and-center.
We say almost single-handedly because the English Premier League is also doing a fine job of keeping the issue on the table, albeit unintentionally. Though England’s top flight talked the talk during the preseason, it’s yet to walk the walk. Seven games into the season, the league’s new concussion protocols look feckless.
Take Sunday’s game between Chelsea and Arsenal. Blues’ keeper Thibaut Courtois appeared to be knocked out, suffering a blow to the head that eventually landed him in the hospital. Despite the hit, Courtois was allowed to play on, only to be pulled from the match 14 minutes later. Petr Cech, adorned with the rugby helmet he’s worn since his own head injury, came on in his place.
“The fact a lot of people seem to be turning a blind eye to [second-impact syndrome] – from [FIFA] to the Premier League – makes no sense,” Twellman wrote, discussing the dangers of suffering a second head injury before symptoms of the first are resolved. “It takes a minimum of seven minutes to properly assess a concussion. That is not my opinion – it is what leading neurologists in America say. So after the World Cup, Sepp Blatter says [FIFA] will adopt three-minute concussion breaks. He is saying, ‘Hey, we’ll meet you halfway’.”
Soccer needs temporary substitutes, used at the referee’s discretion. The change seems inevitable. Managers are too short-sighted to prioritize a player’s health over using a sub, while leagues don’t care enough to change the culture. Rather than wait for these skewed priorities to align with common sense, referees should be empowered to send players off, approve a replacement, and reverse the move if the injured player is cleared.
How stupid do we have to be to value a substitution rule — one that hasn’t exactly been immutable through the game’s history — over players’ health? Because right now, we’re acting pretty stupid.
Again, from Twellman’s piece:
From my calculations, Chelsea’s medical staff looked at Courtois from somewhere between 56 and 66 seconds on the pitch before clearing him to carry on. That is not enough, I don’t care who you are. They have brought in a neutral “tunnel” doctor to assist the team doctor, and that is a start. But did that independent doctor have access to a TV showing all the replay angles? Because any doctor in his or her right mind would watch that video and say, “Courtois has a suspected concussion. He needs to come off immediately”.
I’m not so sure a doctor needs to see video to be able to assess a patient’s symptoms, but it’s worth considering, as is everything else Twellman’s pursuing. While the rest of us battle our own apathy and ignorance, the former U.S. international continues to leverage his misfortune, turning the ailments that curtailed a stellar career into a cause that will have a lasting effect.
At least, it will have a lasting effect once FIFA, the Premier League, and the rest of us become as passionate as Twellman.