Head injuries are no joke. Concussions and fractures of the head can have serious consequences for footballers. So in the case of head trauma, should players be immediately removed from the pitch and treated by a physician?
Players receiving treatment on the sidelines for head injuries have become a common sight over the years. These days, the DFL imposes strict rules to ensure such players should be tested by physicians before they re-enter the game after a head trauma.
What German football doesn’t need is another story like that of Christoph Kramer, who ran all over the pitch for a quarter of an hour during the 2014 World Cup final without even being sure what game he was playing in.
Why not helmets?
Klaus Gjasula, a midfielder at newly promoted side SC Paderborn, has been wearing a helmet since he fractured his cheekbone in 2013. And the 29-year-old holding midfielder thinks that he shouldn’t be the only one using a helmet on the pitch. He told t-online.de:
“I would find it sensible if all players wore helmets… It might look funny on the pitch, but it would be for the best for the players health, for sure.”
However, the Bundesliga debutant doesn’t think that most players would follow his advice voluntarily:
“If somebody doesn’t have anything, he’ll think, ‘This guy is mad, recommending this to me. I’m healthy.’… Everybody thinks, ‘Well, it’s not going to happen to me.’ And then it happens.”
Having played with a helmet for six years, Gjasula says that it doesn’t hamper him as a footballer:
“At the start, I had a few issues with the sight, but I adapted quickly and I felt great after a short while.
“In the following season I decided to play without the helmet on the first match day of the season, and I was directly involved in an areal duel that ended up with our goalkeeper hitting me.
“Since that moment, I have always worn my helmet.”
Head injuries in the Bundesliga
During the opening match of the current Bundesliga season, both Benjamin Pavard and Marko Grujic went to ground after a collision. The two players each received an impact to their heads, but play wasn’t stopped, and the Serb then went on to score after winning the ball from the Frenchman.
— Hertha BSC (@HerthaBSC) August 17, 2019
Pavard and Grujic were subsequently able to continue with the game. However, it’s difficult to tell how badly impacted a player is after receiving a blow to the head.
Last season, for example, Karim Onisiwo and Lukas Konate were involved in a clash of heads in the match between RB Leipzig and Mainz 05. Onisiwo then went to ground and received treatment, following the protocol that the DFL wants physicians to use when treating players with head injuries.
However, Onisiwo would later state that this protocol doesn’t necessarily prevent players with a head injury from re-entering the pitch. Onisiwo told kicker:
“After the crash with Konate, I went to the floor and I wasn’t present for a brief while. Everything went black, and I had the feeling that ten helicopters were starting right next to me.
“When the physios arrived, I had re-gained consciousness a bit. They asked me questions, like what the score was, and I could answer them all. The fourth official asked me some questions as well before I re-entered the pitch.
“I seemingly answered those questions correctly, but I can’t remember any of it. I went back onto the pitch, I scored a goal and then I got worse. I got dizzy, I had trouble orienting myself on the pitch. I signaled to the bench that I wanted to come off.
“Then half-time arrived. In the dressing room, I couldn’t even remember that I had scored in the match. I had to be shown the goal to remember that I had scored.”
Other head injuries have been more obvious to both the naked eye and the physicians. The collision between Koen Casteels and Christian Gentner on match-day 4 of the 2017-18 season might very well be one of the most horrific examples of how exposed players’ heads can be in certain situations.
In light of such incidents, one might wonder why there aren’t more calls for head protection.
Impact of headers on the brain
While shocking events such as these do receive headlines, that’s in no small part because they simply don’t happen very often.
But a far more common feature of the game is that it allows its participants to use their heads to control, block and pass the ball.
And your head regularly coming into contact with an object traveling at a high velocity might not be the wisest of moves, as several studies have concluded over the years.
For instance, an investigation conducted by researchers at New York’s Albert Einstein College of medicine found that “worse cognitive function in soccer players stems mainly from frequent ball heading rather than unintentional head impacts due to collisions”.
So, as the the art of heading is such a fundamental part of the game of football, protecting players’ heads through the use of helmets might eventually become far more commonplace – or even mandatory.
But given that there’s no indication that such measures are even being seriously considered yet, the long-term effects of headers might well come under much closer scrutiny in the not too distant future.
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