Len Oliver, US Soccer Hall of Famer, to Donate Brain for Concussion Research

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistMarch 27, 2016

Mar 12, 2016; Kansas City, KS, USA; A soccer ball sits on the pitch before the game between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Sporting Kansas City at Children's Mercy Park. Kansas City won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

United States National Soccer Hall of Famer Len Oliver will posthumously donate his brain and spinal cord to the Concussion Legacy Foundation and to the CTE Center at Boston University, according to Steven Goff of the Washington Post.

"Take an old guy, take a guy who has been in the sport his entire life, and take a look," Oliver said, speaking about the potential head trauma ramifications of participating in the sport. "If there's nothing there, good."

Oliver, 82, played soccer for Temple University, in United States semipro leagues and for the national team. Protecting players from head trauma wasn't emphasized in his playing days, however, and he told Goff he suffered six head injuries.

"I went up [to] head [a] ball and a shorter guy outjumped me and came down with his head," Oliver said, recounting an incident from the 1963 Pan American Games. "I was knocked out. The Brazilian trainer, a jolly guy, was hitting me with the magic sponge of ice-cold water. He was laughing. I got up, walked over and they put eight stitches in me."

Oliver noted he played again two days later.

CTE and concussion research has shown the dangers of sustained and consistent head trauma and has become a major storyline in many sports, namely football and especially the NFL. Several former soccer players—most notably ESPN's Taylor Twellman and U.S. women's national team legend Brandi Chastain—have already agreed to posthumously donate their brains for research.  

One of the concerns with soccer is that consistently heading the ball increases the risk of concussions. Oliver, who is a proponent of proper heading technique, is hoping research dispels that notion.

"It's good we are more aware of concussion policy and protocol," he said. "But the moment you start insisting heading the ball is dangerous, there goes the sport."

Nonetheless, Oliver called upon other older soccer players to donate their brains so researchers can continue to learn more about the effects of playing soccer—specifically heading the ball or colliding with the heads of other players—on the human brain.


You can follow Timothy Rapp on Twitter.