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Female soccer players and disabling brain injury

At DI Law Group, we represent professional athletes in their claims for long-term disability insurance often based on debilitating mental or physical injuries. Obviously, professional sports are not gentle on bodies or brains and disabling injuries can prevent a pro athlete from continuing to earn a living in their sport. In severe cases, these injuries might keep them from working even in less strenuous jobs.

In those cases, it is appropriate for them to file claims for disability insurance benefits. Disability insurance for pro athletes might be provided through their team employers or professional sports associations, or they may purchase private disability insurance policies. Disability insurance companies are motivated to deny elite athletes’ claims because they can be very expensive if their payouts are based on previous income levels.

Head trauma in women’s soccer

Head trauma is a common occurrence in pro sports, including in football, boxing, hockey and soccer. While until now most media coverage of brain injury and pro athletes has been of male players, especially in football, it is now coming into focus that such problems are also likely in female athletes. With the rising recognition of the high caliber of female soccer players that has come with the recent success of the U.S. women’s national team winning its fourth World Cup, these athletes are starting to ask questions about potential disability.

Brain injuries like concussions and CTE can have devastating impact on athletes. CTE or chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a rare condition causing “brain degeneration likely caused by repeated head traumas,” according to the Mayo Clinic. CTE can cause cognitive decline, mood disorders, behavioral problems and a heightened risk of suicide and premature death.

CTE is a challenge because it has historically only been diagnosable after death through autopsy, although a recent medical study was able to detect PET levels in living football players consistent with CTE in deceased victims.

Serious concussions and other brain trauma can leave athletes with ongoing migraines and headaches, depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, mood swings, light sensitivity, dizziness, nausea, impaired judgment, memory loss and concentration problems.

Bleacher Report recently published a comprehensive article about the potential for CTE and other conditions caused by repetitive concussions and brain trauma in the context of women’s soccer. More research needs to be done to investigate how brain injury in female pro athletes might look different than in male players. According to the article, many elite female soccer players have already left their brains for study after death.

One doctor cited in the Bleacher Report piece expects that because women’s professional sports are only recently coming into their own, he thinks the impact of repetitive brain trauma for these athletes will become “a major growing problem over the next 10 to 20 years.”

Seek professional medical and legal support

Any pro athlete, active or retired, female or male, regardless of sport, should be cognizant of these potential issues, including the need for comprehensive medical care and their rights under disability insurance policies.

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