Landmark concussion suit filed against soccer organizations

[JURISPRUDENCE] FIFA, U.S. Soccer and four youth associations have been sued in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by a group seeking the establishment of a medical monitoring program for players with concussions and head injuries and the implementation of "return to play" guidelines, a change in substitution rules and rules for heading by players under the age of 17.

The five plaintiffs -- players or parents of players -- are listed in the class-action suit Mehr vs. FIFA filed by attorneys for the firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro. They allege that soccer organizations have failed to provide adequate concussion management.

The 140-page complaint alleges head injuries are at "epidemic" levels. It cites a study by the Center for Injury Research and Policy in Columbus, Ohio, that there are more concussions in high school soccer than in high school baseball, basketball, softball and wrestling combined. It also asserts that 30 percent of concussions occur from heading a ball or attempting to head a ball, and young players are particularly vulnerable to head injuries from heading.

The class for the purposes of the suit consist of all current and former players from 2002 to the present who played for teams governed by FIFA, U.S. Soccer, U.S. Youth Soccer, U.S. Club Soccer and AYSO. The California Youth Soccer Association (Cal North) is also listed as a defendant.

The plaintiffs are not asking for monetary damages. They are, however, asking for the creation of medical monitoring program -- paid for by a trust fund set up by the defendants -- for all those in the class who have played for (or will play for) teams governed by the defendants since 2002.

They are also seeking injunctive relief implementing:

-- "return to play" guidelines;
-- guidelines for screening and detecting head injuries;
-- changing of substitution rules for medical evaluation purposes; and
-- regulations for heading by players under 17.

The plaintiffs also ask that all players be informed that they may need to be monitored for concussions and that team physicians need to be given guidelines about concussion injuries and their risks.

The lead attorney is Jon King, based in Berkeley. He represents former NFL quarterback Craig Morton in a concussion lawsuit against the NFL filed in the same Federal court as the soccer concussion suit. He was at one point the lead attorney in the O'Bannon vs. NCAA lawsuit.

For the suit to go forward, the court will need to certify that there is a class action and the plaintiffs will represent the class.

In addition to the establishment of the medical monitoring program and their injunctive relief, the plaintiffs seek legal fees and costs and other relief as determined by the court.
16 comments about "Landmark concussion suit filed against soccer organizations".
  1. James Froehlich, August 28, 2014 at 12:29 a.m.

    I have no issue with the requested reporting on head injuries/concussions and suing FIFA sounds like a good idea for a variety of reasons, HOWEVER, the assertions of the number of soccer injuries versus all of the other sports appears dubious. Why just soccer? Maybe it's a plot by the NFL to deflect the spotlight from American football's problems !!??? Unfortunately, it sounds like attorneys trying to make a name for themselves. However, if USSoccer and FIFA are truly stonewalling on reporting, then shame on them! Don't be morons just as soccer is beginning to make some headway in the US.

  2. ROBERT BOND, August 28, 2014 at 8:43 a.m.

    helmets should be mandatory........

  3. Mike Sweeney, August 28, 2014 at 9:04 a.m.

    I have no problem with first 3 points but despise using the court system and lawyers to force people to do things is not the way to do this.

    Changing the regulations for heading for U17 and under is misguided. These studies that they base this off are incredibly unscientific. It is based on a small population that anyone who has played the game could shoot holes through their findings. Did the player have any technique how to head the ball, how to protect themselves, and many more factors. The studies are just looking at the injuries. Putting head gear on players gives players a false sense of security actually makes the problem worse.

    I hope that the soccer associations strongly defend themselves because this will allow these outsiders into the game of soccer to do what ever they want and change the game we love. Look at the studies and the population group that was studied. They are bogus. I am not saying that there could or could not be a correlation but the studies ill defined and should be the basis of throwing this suit out of court.

  4. Santiago 1314, August 28, 2014 at 10:38 a.m.

    Duh what??? Sorry, Couldn't follow the Story... Looked like Greek To me.. Too many Headers In the 70's!!! ...Free and Unlimited SUBs is Coming... Doctors want it, Coaches want it, Owners want it, Fans want it... And the Lawyers/Courts Are going to Force it on us.. I'll look for my earlier Post on the Subject

  5. Joseph Pratt, August 28, 2014 at 10:40 a.m.

    This issue is not going away, and will only get more attention. We coaches can teach all the correct techniques, but it does not change the fact that kids will do it wrong. Or they will try to do it right and bang heads, or get upended in attempting a header and land badly, resulting in a concussion. Participation rates in football are dropping rapidly as a consequence of the attention (finally) being paid to concussions. In soccer, where one uses the head as an instrument to contact the ball, it is a given that more scrutiny will come to bear. Creative and potentially controversial solutions are needed. Headgear? Maybe, but the false sense of security is a real risk.

    I say, outlaw heading altogether, at least at ages up through 17. At age 18, the players are "of age," so decisions can be theirs. But I don't think the game of soccer, which I love, would be ruined if heading is outlawed. Better that than seeing the game destroyed by legal action. And legal action is here to stay.

  6. Bret Newman, August 28, 2014 at 11:11 a.m.

    Joseph, I have one question for you. If players don't use their head until 17, wouldn't that hurt their skill level severely, as far as heading the ball? Doesn't that take years of practice, to get good at it? And isn't going to be harder for most, to learn that skill at an older age?

  7. Allan Lindh, August 28, 2014 at 12:30 p.m.

    The beautiful game is played on the ground with the feet. Has anyone ever described a group of tall thugs leaping in the air, bashing one another with their heads, and elbows, as beautiful? Just change the rules so that head is treated like the arms.

  8. Edward Hamm, August 28, 2014 at 12:48 p.m.

    I don't have any problems with the protective headbands, and I disagree with the "false sense of security" argument. Headbands will not make players butt heads more, any more than airbags made drivers want to crash their cars more, except for the thugs out there who will headbutt you, gear or not.

  9. Santiago 1314, August 28, 2014 at 2:04 p.m.

    @Allan... I guess you missed Van Persie Header in the last WC... Not to Mention, Pelé Header vs Gordon Banks in '74 WC.. Still Considered the Greatest Save of All Time.. The "Beautiful Game" would have been Robbed of them Beauties, without Heading...

  10. Santiago 1314, August 28, 2014 at 2:07 p.m.

    Dangerous!?!?! How come I can remember That, and I can't remember what I ate for Lunch yesterday???... LOL..

  11. Santiago 1314, August 28, 2014 at 2:16 p.m.

    Dang, I meant Dang!!! Dang, Auto Spell... :)

  12. K Hakim, August 28, 2014 at 3:04 p.m.

    Heading is not the issue, like any skill, it must be taught properly and kids all over the world use their heads with the ball for hours and are fine. The issue is not contact as soccer is a contact sport. If you are afraid that you will get hurt, do not play competitive contact sports. There is always chess. The issue is monitoring of concussions. Unlike the idiots in the World Cup, one should NOT play after a head injury no matter what the player says. A player should be monitored for at least 2 weeks medically until a doctor gives the player clearance to play again and even then monitored for the next x amount of weeks. That is the issue and it is appropriate but nothing should be done to the rules of the game. In fact, coaches need to teach their players to dribble better and keep the ball on the GROUND. Stop booting it in the air all the time then these kids would not headbutt each other trying to Win for mom and pop.

  13. Xavi Hernandez , August 28, 2014 at 3:34 p.m.

    Finally. British coaches and their american sycophants won't change grotesque american soccer but the lawyers might.

  14. Santiago 1314, August 29, 2014 at 11:06 a.m.

    A few out of the Box ideas... Do away with Goal kicks... 5 Second rule like Indoor... No heading except in Penalty Areas... Punts only in last 5 Minutes of a half, guess u would have to allow "Open" Heading.. Just thinking out loud?!?!?

  15. Dennis Mueller, August 29, 2014 at 3:28 p.m.

    I doubt an outright ban on heading is in the cards (it would not prevent every concussion in soccer since a ball kicked into head at short range, collisions with the ground, goal posts or other players cause many soccer related concussions). I have tried to pay attention to this topic very closely and so far as I can see there is no/little evidence that heading a ball causes concussions, but it can lead to situations that result in players banging heads together or elbowing a player in the head and those do lead to concussions. It is unclear if heading itself causes any micro-trauma that may result in long term problems, it may or it may not, we simply do not know. Clearly better enforcement of existing rules, especially more no tolerance for a player leaping into another in order to win a head ball and no tolerance of using arms to fend off challenges would help. Mandatory, temporary, substitution for a time (10 minutes) before reentry to evaluate head collisions might help, and would at least send a message about the seriousness of concussion risk.

  16. Allan Lindh, August 31, 2014 at 8:56 a.m.

    Santiago. I don't deny that there is an occasional goal scored via a header that is a thing of beauty. Maybe one every 5 to 10 matches, maybe every 20. But during those matches, there are literally dozens, sometimes hundreds, of high velocity head impacts with balls, other heads, and elbows. Brain damage is forever. The solution is obvious, and it is essentially certain that it will come in the next 5-10 years -- so why not start now. Outlaw heading in youth soccer below the age of 16, and move the age up every year. Outlaw heading in the college game. Let those who are getting paid make their own decisions, but stop the damage to kids brains now. And of course it will not stop the ground impact injuries, but with heading out of the game, kids will start wearing helmets to help with that problem. The main thing is it will still be the beautiful game, maybe even more beautiful. Or have you forgotten how little heading of the ball Pele engaged in?

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications