16 April 2015
The Jeff Astle Foundation and Footballer Brain Injuries
A new charity launched at the weekend has warned that thousands of footballers could suffer long-term brain injuries caused by heading the ball.
The Jeff Astle Foundation is named after the former England and West Bromwich Albion striker who died from a brain injury in 2002, aged 59. The charity was launched by the Astle family who, ever since Jeff’s death, have campaigned for more research to be done into the long-term impact of ‘headers’.
Jeff Astle was originally diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease but a new examination of his brain found that he died from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a brain injury more commonly found in boxers who suffer repeated head trauma. The coroner said that Jeff’s injury was caused by repeatedly heading footballs and said he believed a number of footballers could be affected by CTE.
It was originally thought that Jeff Astle’s brain injury was caused by heading the heavy, leather footballs that were around during his playing career. According to Jeff’s daughter, Dawn Astle, this is not the case.
Dawn is concerned that thousands of modern day footballers could be at risk as the new, lighter balls travel much faster and have a greater impact when crashing against a player’s skull. Dawn says that the Jeff Astle Foundation is being launched to “raise awareness, promote research and support those who have been affected.”
In 2011, research by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the USA found that the force exerted by footballs is enough to cause serious brain injury. Lead Researcher Dr Michael Lipton said that repeated heading could “set off a cascade of responses that can lead to degeneration of brain cells”.
Further research by the University of Birmingham in 2014 led to motor neuro-science expert Dr Michael Grey calling for children to be banned from heading footballs. Dr Grey said that while children should be encouraged to take part in sport, their brains are not developed enough to handle the shock impact of the brain against the skull caused by heading a football.
The Premier League introduced new rules at the start of the 2014-15 season on how football clubs should deal with head injuries sustained by players and, after campaigning by Jeff Astle’s family, the English Football Association are considering new rules on how to deal with head injuries in amateur football.
Ken Brough is a senior personal injury solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.
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