Football must act to protect players with head injuries

Continuing to play after receiving a possible concussion is nothing new in the sport, but rules should be changed to protect the players from their own poor decisions.

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In the 63rd minute of Uruguay's 2-1 win against England on Thursday, left back Alvaro Pereira went to ground trying to tackle Raheem Sterling. He missed badly, and the Liverpool forward's attempt to hurdle the challenge resulted in a knee smashing into Pereira's temple. Unsurprisingly, the defender didn't come off very well, lying prone on the pitch for more than a minute. Unsurprisingly, he played on. But only because there are no rules in place to protect him from his own decisions or the sport's culture.

The collision looked like this:

Concussions in football are a contentious topic, one that's been coming to the forefront recently. Clint Dempsey took a kick to the forehead and played on; the sport is rife with incidents in which players take severe blows to their heads and stay on the pitch. Perhaps the most horrifying example of the past season came when Everton striker Romelu Lukaku, racing at full speed, thumped his knee into Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Hugo Lloris' head. Lloris played on despite showing clear signs of a concussion and barely being able to stand up.

Tottenham's irresponsible handling of Lloris drew significant attention, even from FIFA, but here we saw a return to the old ways. Uruguay's medical staff examined Pereira, signaled to the bench for a substitution and were overruled because the player himself decided he was fit to play.

Sport is still the domain of hypermasculinity, with honor and manliness prized over considered thought, and it's no surprise that Pereira wanted to stay on the pitch. This is the World Cup, the pinnacle of a footballer's career, and some brain trauma's a fair price to pay, from a footballer's perspective. But allowing Pereira to make that decision is ridiculous -- he's not aware of the risks, and he's only putting himself in more danger by going out on the pitch.

If a team's medical staff doesn't apply everything science knows about brain injuries in making their decisions, they're complicit in damaging these players' futures.

At some point, the outcry against the way concussion is handled in football will catch on. We're not there yet, but the anger over Pereira, over Lloris -- over every single incident that sees players allowed back onto the pitch despite being knocked unconscious by a blow to the head -- is a growing force, and eventually football will have to accommodate it.

There is no good reason this should be allowed to happen. If a team's medical staff doesn't apply everything science knows about brain injuries in making their decisions, they're complicit in damaging these players' futures. If the manager allows testosterone to overrule reason at the cost of a young man's health, that's almost criminal. No, this won't be fixed anytime soon, but the day will come when this is no longer an issue.

Bringing attention to these incidents will only accelerate that day's arrival.

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