No, it’s not just boxing and football

Soccer, especially heading the ball, seems to be bad for your brain.

Looks as if all those “soccer moms” may be breeding Bush voters:

The cognitive consequences of “heading” the ball have come under closer scrutiny by researchers, including “heading” the ball. Compared with matched controls, adult soccer players in Norway who began playing soccer in youth leagues (and excluding players with a history of head injury unrelated to soccer) showed mild to severe deficits in attention, concentration, and memory in 81% of the players tested. Players who headed the ball more frequently during competition had higher rates of cognitive loss than players who used the technique less often. Other researchers have expressed concern about cognitive deficits appearing in youth soccer participants after much shorter exposure time to heading the ball.


Soccer players also seem to perform more poorly than control subjects on some types of IQ tests and many former players (81%) suffer from problems with attention, concentration, and memory. Players who typically head the ball have also been found to have more neurological problems than non-headers. Compared to goalies and midfielders (“non-headers”), forwards and defenders (“headers”) performed more poorly on some memory, visual perception and planning tests.

If soccer were a pharmaceutical, the FDA would have pulled it long ago, and the personal-injury bar would be circling the manufacturer. If these results came out of Phase II trials, the drug would never get to Phase III. If they were about cannabis users, the drug czar’s office would be dragging out the old frying pan. But according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, since exercise is good, and soccer is a form of exercise, evidence from well-controlled studies showing that it leads to permanent brain injury calls for further study, not action. Sigh.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: