Rock Center | May 09, 2012
WILLIAMS: to get back into our story tonight about head injuries in girls soccer . Again, second only to football in the number of reported concussions. As we've seen, these concussions can have terrible, long-lasting consequences. As Kate Snow now continues her report, she asks the parents of female players where they draw the line.
SNOW: For these soccer families in suburban Philadelphia , every weekend is the same drill. How much of your social lives were built around soccer ?
Mr. LEX KASACAVAGE: Almost all of it. It goes all year round.
Ms. A. BITTLE: It's your camps, too. Some places football's big, well, soccer 's huge here.
SNOW: This is hard-core.
Ms. A. BITTLE: Oh, it is hard-core.
Ms. K. KASACAVAGE: We beat -- yeah.
Mr. KASACAVAGE: Very.
SNOW: Do you ever think you made soccer too important?
Mr. KASACAVAGE: I think that we were blind to what was going on around us because, yes, it was about the team, it was about the winning.
SNOW: While they were out there winning, something disturbing was happening. One by one, year by year, their daughters were all suffering concussions, an alarming number of them for one small group of friends.
Ms. C. BITTLE: I've had three concussions.
Ms. THOMAS: I've had two.
Ms. K. ZEFFERT: I've had three.
Ms. ROHR: I think I've had like seven or eight.
SNOW: And the damage from those head injuries is not only physical but psychological, too. How many of you have been on antidepressants? When Hanna Thomas couldn't play soccer for months after her concussion , she lost hope. And what she revealed in our interview is hard for any parent to hear.
Ms. THOMAS: I like didn't even want to like have to live. It was really hard.
SNOW: You didn't want to live?
Ms. THOMAS: It was really hard.
SNOW: What does that mean, Hanna ? Does that mean that you actually thought
about taking your life? You make me cry.
Ms. THOMAS: I just didn't know how I was going to like live through the rest of like what I was going through. It was like just so much put on you to have to deal with, like socially and mentally. Like everything just piled in, and it was like so hard to deal with.
SNOW: I see you crying, too, Casey .
Ms. C. BITTLE: Yeah.
Ms. C. BITTLE: Because I just feel what she's going through because it's happened to me as well.
SNOW: You felt the same way?
Ms. C. BITTLE: Just sitting in your room knowing that you can't do anything, and it's just rough. You can't even connect with your friends through text or call them because you can't look at your phone because it hurts so bad.
Dr. RICHARD GINSBURG: The tough decision as a family is it's either risk your brain or be socially miserable, with no identity. That's a tough choice.
SNOW: Sports psychologist Richard Ginsburg says the growing enthusiasm for soccer from parents and coaches may actually be making matters worse.
Dr. GINSBURG: We get wrapped up. We want success for them, and so sometimes we get -- we lose perspective. It doesn't make us terrible people. It just makes us human.
Mr. JIM THOMAS: Over the years I got so involved with it, it really became something that we shared.
SNOW: Jim Thomas started coaching his daughter Hanna 's team when she was just five. He's excited she's recovered from her injuries and has just been cleared by a doctor to play again.
Mr. THOMAS: It was like a whole new horizon out there that we were going to get a chance to get back in and be able to, you know, rejoin an activity that was such a big part of our lives prior to the concussion .
SNOW: Interesting that you're using "we."
Mr. THOMAS: Mm-hmm.
SNOW: So it's both of you?
Mr. THOMAS: Yes, absolutely.
SNOW: I'm a soccer mom .
Mr. THOMAS: Yeah.
SNOW: I have two kids who play soccer . I love the game of soccer , but it's a game.
Mr. THOMAS: It is a game.
SNOW: And at some point you wonder whether you have to say to a kid, 'This is just a game. It's not worth your health.'
Mr. THOMAS: I've said that. I've asked her if she agrees with the statement. She says, 'Yes, it is just a game. Dad, I think can do it,' and 'Dad, I really want to do it.'
SNOW: She said that she got so depressed that at one point she actually thought about taking her own life. So now that she's recovered, why take the risk that she could end up in a dark place like that again?
Mr. THOMAS: I keep going back to the same answer, and it's just -- it's hard to imagine that she would get there again. I'm not -- I'm -- no, I'm not overly concerned about that. But the thought doesn't escape me.
SNOW: Of our group, Casey Bittle is the only other one still playing. But after two concussions, she says she's avoiding headers.
Ms. C. BITTLE: I use my chest more now.
SNOW: But you can't totally avoid it.
Ms. C. BITTLE: If it's like a small kick, you can head it, and if you head it right, it won't hurt. But if you head it wrong, it kills.
Mr. BITTLE: The number one symptom is just a blank stare.
SNOW: Casey 's parents , Mike and Angie Bittle , remember her first concussion and admit they're tense watching her games now.
Ms. A. BITTLE: Good job, Casey .
Mr. BITTLE: You're watching her play, and you see a ball coming her way, we do take a little bit of a...
Ms. A. BITTLE: Yeah, we do.
Mr. BITTLE: ...deep breath and hope that she doesn't get hurt.
SNOW: The night before our big group interview, she played in a game and took a hit to the head.
Ms. C. BITTLE: I got hit in the head again, and that's just hard, taking it.
SNOW: Were you heading the ball?
Ms. C. BITTLE: No. It just hit me.
SNOW: Just hit you?
Ms. C. BITTLE: Yeah.
SNOW: How are you feeling?
Ms. C. BITTLE: I have a really bad headache right now. So I don't know.
Ms. A. BITTLE: She had told me that she had a mild headache. She said it wasn't that bad.
SNOW: After telling her mom that, we filmed Casey scoring two goals in back-to-back games, but the next day her headache became unbearable. It turns out that hit four days earlier caused a concussion . You told your mom you had a little bit of a headache.
Ms. C. BITTLE: Yeah.
SNOW: But you didn't think it was related to the hit?
Ms. C. BITTLE: Yeah, I didn't think that it was.
SNOW: Or did you think maybe it was, but you didn't want to scare your mom.
Ms. C. BITTLE: A little bit of both.
SNOW: And also maybe not wanting to accept it yourself?
Ms. C. BITTLE: Yeah. I didn't want to be hurt again.
Ms. A. BITTLE: I did have some suspicions, and I wish I had gone more with my gut. I wanted to trust the fact that she knew she was OK.
Dr. CANTU: Best case scenario, I would take heading out of soccer under the ages of 14.
SNOW: All together?
Dr. CANTU: I'd take it out, yes.
SNOW: Dr. Bob Cantu , a neurosurgeon and leading researcher, says eliminating heading would dramatically reduce the number of concussions in youth soccer .
Dr. CANTU: More than 50 percent of concussions are occurring in the act of heading the ball. And what's actually happening is the young ladies collide heads as well as elbows, shoulders. So it's other body part hitting the head as well as head-to-head in the act of heading.
SNOW: Soccer purists are not going to like that.
Dr. CANTU: No, they're not going to like it at all, and they're going to argue that you need to teach the skills of the sport.
Ms. BRANDI CHASTAIN: Yeah, and move my feet.
SNOW: Soccer champion Brandi Chastain helped the US women's team win the World Cup . Why not just ban headers?
Ms. CHASTAIN: Because it's a part of the game , and I think it's an important part, and I think it's a beautiful part of the game .
SNOW: She says girls need to be taught to create protective space around their bodies.
Ms. CHASTAIN: No exposing my head to the space first.
SNOW: She says heading isn't dangerous if it's done correctly.
Ms. CHASTAIN: OK, good. Arms are out. You hit it right in the middle of that sweet spot right -- right above your eyebrows in the middle of your forehead like that. You don't -- you almost don't feel it.
SNOW: Casey says she knows where that sweet spot is. But with this latest concussion she didn't see the ball coming and now she's out of soccer for the rest of the season. Where is the line where you cross over and say, 'It's not worth it anymore. It's just a game'?
Mr. BITTLE: Well, I think that our family is standing on that line right now, and it's very scary, from a parent looking at your daughter with a concussion , and when you see the blank stare. And if it can happen again, you know, we want our daughter back.
SNOW: Now Casey 's parents say they're going to convince their daughter to give up soccer for good and switch to a noncontact sport like track.
Ms. A. BITTLE: She is just my sunshine. She is -- she lights up the room when she walks in the room, and that's the light that you want to see every day. You don't want to see the blank stare.
SNOW: As for Hanna Thomas , she's getting ready to try out for another travel soccer team .
Ms. THOMAS: I really want to play. Like, it's not that I don't want to. It's just scary.
SNOW: You don't have to, right? Nobody's...
Ms. THOMAS: Yeah.
SNOW: Nobody's forcing you or is...
Ms. THOMAS: I want to, though. That's the problem.
Mr. THOMAS: Hanna , ball.
SNOW: But her dad says he'll be watching her closely.
Mr. THOMAS: We're at the point where if we -- if she does have another head injury that soccer 's over.
SNOW: That's it?
Mr. THOMAS: That's it.
SNOW: So one more concussion .
Mr. THOMAS: One more concussion ...
SNOW: And she's out.
Mr. THOMAS: ...and she's not going to play.
WILLIAMS: Kate Snow here with us in the studio. I should probably point out we're all in this together. I mean, my daughter's former high school captain of her team.
WILLIAMS: And this was every weekend of our lives, and you'll be there this weekend.
SNOW: I've got two kids -- two kids playing soccer . My husband played through college. He's a coach. We are huge soccer fans , soccer family. We're not down on soccer . None of the people we talked to are down on soccer . They're just saying, 'Let's be smart about it.' If you see anything -- I mean, you heard the girls say, Brian , they don't necessarily tell you how they're feeling.
SNOW: They don't necessar -- they lie to themselves, and they lie to their coaches and their parents . So if something looks wrong, like that mother said, 'My gut was telling me something was wrong,' take the kid out of the game, wait it out. It's better to be safe than sorry. And the other thing these girls did is they played through concussions...
SNOW: ...which meant that then, once you've had one, if you get hit again, you can do remarkable damage, life-altering damage to yourself with subsequent concussions.
WILLIAMS: By the way, how representative is this team? All those -- that shot where all those hands stayed up in the air.
SNOW: Yeah. Yeah. They have a larger concentration, surely, of concussions than most teams do. They are an aberration in that sense, but they're reflective of the problem that's happening on teams across the country. I guarantee if you went to girls teams all over the country, you would find many of them have had concussions.
WILLIAMS: And if you suspect your daughter has had a concussion , I mean, what should parents ...
SNOW: Well, there are some signs. We've put all of them on our website. There's a great Centers for Disease Control page, CDC page, that we've linked to on ROCK CENTER 's website. But dizziness, the glassy-eyed look that they talked about...
SNOW: ...disoriented, can't answer simple questions, just -- things just seem off. Those are all signs. And definitely see a doctor if you have any question at all.
WILLIAMS: Kate , thanks. I hope parents are watching closely. And by the way, during her reporting Kate asked, as you saw, soccer star, former team USA member Brandi Chastain to give a lesson in how players should protect themselves when heading the ball. Tonight, especially for parents of soccer players, we have put that video of that drill on our website. Our thanks to Kate Snow .