On the PBS Newshour Weekend, William Brangham interviewed Brandi Chastain, the extraordinary soccer player, about heading the ball in youth (under age 14) soccer and the risk of injury. She said that there is no reason that kids this age should be heading the ball; the risk of concussion or other brain trauma just isn’t worth it. The interviewer replayed an interview from a few years ago where she responded to the same question with the opposite answer – that heading the ball was perfectly safe for youth. She explained that the emerging science has convinced her that it was too dangerous.
What I would really have appreciated would be the honest answer:
“I am following in a long standing tradition of athletes answering questions for which we have absolutely no relevant information or expertise, but who get asked anyway because of dim-witted interviewers who think that because we are athletes we have some clue about the legal, political, economic, biological, psychological, social, or educational aspects of sports. We have never taken so much as a class in any of these subjects, and even if we did we probably didn’t study much. This is similar to Jenny McCarthy being an expert on childhood vaccinations and immunology because she is a parent.
But getting asked the question makes us feel smart. We give the answer that we want/hope to be true as a way of rationalizing our behavior to the public and to ourselves. And to look much smarter than if we admitted ignorance.
Truth be told, I have just as little information today that the opposite is true and heading is dangerous. I heard about the new science about concussions on TV. And it is more popular to be worried about concussions in youth sports this year than to play the confident superstar sports hero like it was in past years. So I changed my opinion. And anyway, you foolishly asked me the question so what do you expect me to do? Admit ignorance and disappoint my fans?