Limit Headers in Soccer for Children NOW: Protect Their Developing Brains

By (In alphabetical order):

prof.MUDr.Vladimír Beneš, DrSc.; Mgr. Ondřej Bezdíček, Ph.D; prof. MUDr. Pavel Dundr, Ph.D; MUDr. Petr Dušek, Ph.D; MUDr. Eduard Kuriščák, Ph.D; doc. MUDr. Radoslav Matěj, Ph.D;  Mgr. Tomas Nikolai, PH.D; doc. MUDr. Ing. Jaroslav Plas; prof.MUDr. Evžen Růžička,DrSc.; Candice Smith, A.B., M.Ed; Coach Craig Smith, MUDr. Tomáš Uher, Ph.D.; doc. MUDr. Zdeněk Vilikus, CSc.


The developing brain of a child is made up of delicate neurons that make up a soft, pliable mass that is encased by a skull composed of bone. To protect the brain from external forces, and thus damaging the delicate neuronal architecture, the brain is shielded by brain sheath and a layer of cerebral spinal fluid that acts as a shock absorber to normal activity.  This is why a person can run, jump and perform normal activities without suffering brain injury.  

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However, there are three factors we need to be concerned about when it comes to brain injury: 

1. The layer of cerebral spinal fluid cannot protect the brain from crashing against the skull, once an applied force passes the threshold to induce sub-concussive and concussive trauma.  Thresholds that are typically violated on a playing field or prize fighting ring.  Thresholds that are further reduced when it comes to protecting the developing brain of a child whose skull is also not as thick as an adult's.   

2. Unlike many other cells in the body which are capable of regeneration, brain cells, for the most part, are incapable of self-repair and regeneration.

3. Just as inflammatory agents progressively destroy a joint in arthritis, there is also evidence of certain bio-markers such as tau protein that are produced in response to head trauma.  These agents insidiously ravage the brain slowly, and symptoms of progressive neurological disorders do not appear until years after the trauma occurred.  

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
— Winston Churchill

Renowned doctor and former chairman of the neurology department at Charles University (1936 to 1965), Kamil Henner, was ridiculed by many for postulating that boxing was hazardous to the brain. Since then, research repeatedly proved that he was right. In the United States, boxing was banned in both secondary schools and Universities when it was discovered that blows to the head caused a condition called Dementia Pugilistica - now known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE.  
 

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A Disturbing Truth We Cannot Afford to Ignore

The discovery of CTE in professional American football, college and even high school football players coupled with the materialization of the recent Billion Dollar NFL Concussion Settlement has caused an uproar.  These events have lead to numerous multi-million dollar research studies at leading Universities such as Harvard, Oxford, and the CTE Center at Boston University.  These studies have shown a link between sub-concussive and concussive blows and progressive neurological disorders such as CTE, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's Disease.  This research has led to further discoveries of CTE and other progressive neurological disorders in all contact sports such as hockey, rugby, wrestling, and even soccer. 

These studies have been published by leading scientists in major medical journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine, Neurology, Jama and Nature. 

Consequently, the basis of these findings are leading to changes in law in contact sports such as American football and soccer.

The results of the research changes the rules

For example, in the United States, these findings have been used to both raise public awareness and push lawmakers to ban heading the ball in Soccer in children less than the age of 10.  From 11-13 years of age, the heading of the ball is legal in practice, but not in competition.   

Are We Willing To Learn From the Mistakes of Others?

  • Given there are no cures to neurological damage and that common sense dictates that the only way to prevent traumatic brain injury (TBI) is by reducing its incidence through prevention...
  • Given that no studies are being pursued here in the Czech Republic that contradict any of these research findings...
  • Given that the most prominent universities in the world who contribute to many of today’s medical discoveries and who have unrivaled access to research funds have come to the conclusion that there are links between head trauma and progressive neurological disorders and thus have taken steps to better protect an unaware and uninformed public by changing laws…
  • ...This all warrants the adoption of similar safety policies to better protect our children here in the Czech Republic. 
     
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A Call to Defend The Welfare of Our Children

Despite the preponderance of evidence, the stakes of our children's welfare, some curiously maintain resistance to change.  Why?  We are not talking about national security.  We are talking about adapting a policy that was soundly implemented in the United States that simply bans heading the ball in small children to prevent TBI and progressive neurological disorders later in life - a policy that was the brainchild of heavily funded research from numerous leading scientists and Universities.  We are talking about eliminating not the game, but simply a practice of ball heading that was introduced 1000's of years ago.  A practice that can smash and affect any part of the brain -  including, ironically, those centers that also control athletic performance. 

When it Comes to Your Child’s Health, Are You Going To Trust Your Doctor or Bureaucrat?

We cannot afford to ignore advances in modern western medicine, advances which have effectively revealed disturbing connections between inconspicuous brain injuries and progressive neurological disorders. We cannot afford to allow a non-medically trained bureaucrat to make important decisions about your child’s welfare - critical decisions that both your child and you the parent have no control in making, but might regret later in life.  


Public Awareness in the Czech Republic Needs to be Raised:

Citizens of the Czech Republic need to be made aware of this situation and given the option - that on the basis of scientific evidence coupled with the lack of research in the Czech Republic - to, at the very least, opt out if they do not want their child exposed to head trauma in contact sports, until we can pass a law to eliminate headers in soccer for children less than the age of 13. 

In light of the evidence from some of the most reputable sources in the world, are we willing to turn a blind eye and gamble with our children's futures as opposed to just modifying current policies to make contact sports like soccer safer?

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No One Will Look Out for Your Child If You Don't! Please Act Now!

Please sign this petition which calls for schools and children's soccer programs to advise parents of the inherent risks of heading the ball in soccer.  We have created this petition to A) not only make it mandatory for schools to adviser parents of the neurological risks, but also to B) enact a law limiting headers in ages 13 or younger, just as the United States has already done. Once we reach 10,000 signatures, we will send this petition to your child’s school and appropriate governmental agencies.

With your support, we can protect our children. Please act now to sign and share this petition. Thank you!

 

References:

Julie M. Stamm, Alexandra P. Bourlas, Christine M. Baugh, Nathan G. Fritts, Daniel H. Daneshvar, Brett M. Martin, Michael D. McClean, Yorghos Tripodis, Robert A. Stern Age of first exposure to football and later-life cognitive impairment in former NFL players Neurology Jan 2015, 10.1212/WNL.0000000000001358; DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000001358

Ling, H., Morris, H.R., Neal, J.W. et al., Mixed pathologies including chronic traumatic encephalopathy account for dementia in retired association football (soccer) players. Acta Neuropathol (2017) 133: 337.

McKee AC, Cairns NJ, Dickson DW, Folkerth RD, Keene CD, Litvan I, Perl DP, Stein TD, Vonsattel JP, Stewart W, Tripodis Y, Crary JF, Bieniek KF, Dams-O'Connor K, Alvarez VE, Gordon WA, TBI/CTE group. The first NINDS/NIBIB consensus meeting to define neuropathological criteria for the diagnosis of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Acta Neuropathol. 2016 Jan;131(1):75-86. Epub 2015 Dec 14 PubMed.

Bieniek KF, Ross OA, Cormier KA, Walton RL, Soto-Ortolaza A, Johnston AE, DeSaro P, Boylan KB, Graff-Radford NR, Wszolek ZK, Rademakers R, Boeve BF, McKee AC, Dickson DW. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy pathology in a neurodegenerative disorders brain bank. Acta Neuropathol. 2015 Dec;130(6):877-89. Epub 2015 Oct 30 PubMed.

Ling H, Holton JL, Shaw K, Davey K, Lashley T, Revesz T. Histological evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in a large series of neurodegenerative diseases. Acta Neuropathol. 2015 Dec;130(6):891-3. Epub 2015 Oct 24 PubMed.

Noy S, Krawitz S, Del Bigio MR. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy-Like Abnormalities in a Routine Neuropathology Service. J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. 2016 Nov 4; PubMed.

Crane PK, Gibbons LE, Dams-O'Connor K, Trittschuh E, Leverenz JB, Keene CD, Sonnen J, Montine TJ, Bennett DA, Leurgans S, Schneider JA, Larson EB. Association of Traumatic Brain Injury With Late-Life Neurodegenerative Conditions and Neuropathologic Findings. JAMA Neurol. 2016 Sep 1;73(9):1062-9. PubMed.

 

Special Thanks To:

Czech Language Council Chapter at Charles University

PhDr. Šárka Blažková Sršňová, Ph.D.

PhDr. Stanislav CITA, CSc.

Medical Student Advisory Council Chapter at Charles University

Alumni Medical Advisory Council Chapter at Charles University

The Czech Legal Advisory Council  

JUDr. Lukáš Haase, Attorney At Law

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