December 09, 2020
Like rugby, Football is exposing players to the risk of dementia. Isn’t it time we at least tried to play without this risky skill?
Football without headers is unthinkable – or is it? | Adrian Chiles
Rugby’s reckoning with dementia seems to have arrived in a rush; in football, it has been a slower burner. As a West Brom fan, I have been aware of the issue longer than most. One of our greatest players, Jeff Astle, was famed as a brilliant header of the ball. When he retired from the game, he set up a window-cleaning business with the slogan “Jeff never misses the corners”. He died 19 years ago, at the age of 59, from a degenerative brain disease. The coroner recorded a verdict of death by industrial injury.
Ever since then, Jeff’s family, led by his daughter Dawn, have campaigned to get the medical risks of heading the ball recognised. It has been a long struggle. I can’t say I have been a lot of help. I am ashamed to say that one reason for this might be that, as a presenter of football on ITV and the BBC, I was reliant on the game for my livelihood. Though no one ever told me to pipe down on the subject, I think I kept quiet for fear of biting the hands that fed me. Even as the evidence piled up, I kept shtum. I realise now that if I was self-censoring, then surely countless others were, too.
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