Olympic gold medal winner: Don't forget soccer in head injury prevention

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Former Olympic goalkeeper Briana Scurry, who suffered a career-ending head injury in 2010, criticized sports officials for failing to protect athletes in all sports during a congressional hearing Thursday.

With much of the focus on improving safety in sports like football and hockey, considered more violent sports, the U.S. women's national soccer team star told lawmakers that soccer officials are lagging behind when it comes to preventing brain injuries in players.

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The longtime goalkeeper is trying to raise awareness about the dangers of head injuries in soccer, after she suffered a devastating blow to the head in April 2010 that ended her career, which included two Olympic gold medals in 1996 and 2004.

“Officials need to take their heads out of the sand a little bit and know this is affecting our sport, too,” Scurry testified during an Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing.

The hearing, led by subcommittee Chairman Lee Terry (R-Neb.), examined the risks of head injuries in a handful of sports to both youth and professional athletes. The subcommittee on commerce, manufacturing and trade heard from representatives from the National Football League (NFL), National Hockey League (NHL), youth football and hockey leagues, a high school athlete and medical professionals.

Lawmakers asked questions about how coaches can be trained to spot head injuries such as concussions, and what technology advances can be expected from sports equipment to prevent these head injuries.

During the hearing, a particular focus was given to the risks of head injuries in sports like soccer and lacrosse that often get ignored because they are not considered as violent as football or hockey.

“There are other sports that have just as big of a problem with concussions,” Terry said. “We need to raise awareness.”

Terry said he has two children who play lacrosse that is he concerned about. He wants to make sure that parents of children in all sports feel comfortable enough in the level of safety to let their children play.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), ranking member of the subcommittee, expressed similar concerns for the safety of soccer players during the hearing, noting that her 16-year-old granddaughter plays the sport.

Schakowsky said soccer hasn't “grasped the importance.”

“It seems like soccer has more to do than other sports,” she said.

Schakowsky pointed out that soccer players, in contrast to football and hockey players, do not wear helmets or wear much padding, which potentially puts the players at a greater risk for injuries.

Both Schakowsky and Terry rallied around Scurry, who testified about the personal struggles she has dealt with in her life ever since she suffered her head injury. She said she has been treated for symptoms such as a lack of concentration, balance issues, memory loss, anxiety and depression because of the head injury.

Scurry said she hopes soccer leagues will take more precautions to protect their players, particularly youth soccer leagues.

“My main focus is what is done after a hit occurs to keep children and players on the bench after a hit occurs,” Scurry testified.

“Kids are getting concussions because they're returning them to play too soon,” she added.