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Legislation vs Head Injuries in Sport

Football legend, Chris Nicholl, has revealed that winning two major trophies came at the high price of not being able to remember the good times, due to repeatedly heading the ball.

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In an interview with the Daily Mail, the former Liverpool star, 70, spoke of his struggles that he believes are linked to his 19-year career. “I know I'm brain damaged from heading footballs. I used to head 100 balls almost every day.

“When I was at Aston Villa I would watch all my team-mates going home in their cars and I would still be there on the training pitch with Ray Grayden who used to send them long. It's definitely affected my memory.”

Had there been a better understanding of concussions and the severe lasting effects of head injuries, many athletes’ retirements may be a different story.

With the same awareness extending to sports in schools, the future of sport will be much brighter for budding athletes.

Awareness of head injuries in sports has increased in recent years, with governing bodies placing greater pressure on sports bodies, along with coaches, referees or trainers, to see that measures are taken to minimise any inherent risk.

A study raising awareness of the long term damage caused by repeated impact to the brain was published in October, 2016. The study, by the University of Stirling, tested 19 footballers who headed a ball 20 times. The ball was launched from a machine that emulated the power of a ball kicked from a corner, testing participants’ brain function before and immediately after the exercise, as well as 24 hours, 48 hours and two weeks after.

Increased inhibition in the brain was detected after just a single session of heading. Memory test performance was also reduced between 41 and 67 per cent, with effects normalising within 24 hours. For more information, please see our previous blog: Heading Football Has “Significant” Impact on Brain

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Elsewhere in world sport we have seen the law step in to pursue compensation on behalf of those affected by head injuries and also protect future players from concussions. Former players brought legal action against the NFL, which resulted in a $1 billion brain injury compensation settlement and the launch of new initiatives to improve the safety of players, in attempts to reduce the number of life-altering head injuries suffered in the sport. The duty of care to players has seen the NFL invest $60 million in helmet improvement and $40 million in neuroscience funding.

These  are good examples of how legislation and legal action in response to injuries may improve rather than impose on the sport itself. Initiatives such as those deployed by the NFL will see that players receive the necessary treatment and recovery following a head injury, along with safety measures and improved technology that may greatly benefit players’ careers and lives beyond the pitch. With the same awareness extending to sports in schools, the future of sport will be much brighter for budding athletes.


Katie Pendower is a principal lawyer specialising in personal injury law at Slater and Gordon in Manchester.

For further information about financial compensation following a serious injury or for a free consultation to discuss a serious injury, call our no win no fee personal injury solicitors on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online.

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