Michelle Akers, Brandi Chastain to Take Part in New CTE Study

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Brandi Chastain

USWNT superstars Michelle Akers and Brandi Chastain have officially signed on to take part in a study on the long-term effects of head impacts during high-level women’s soccer play, according to ESPN’s Alyssa Roenigk.

Akers suffers from chronic migraines joined Chastain, who became one of the first professional women athletes to donate her brain to Boston University’s Concussion Legacy Foundation for study upon her death back in 2016, during an appearance on ‘CBS Good Morning’ on Thursday to make the official announcement.

The study, which is being called SHINE for Soccer, Head Impacts and Neurological Effects, will begin later this year at Boston University.

“This is the first time they’re looking at female soccer players, female brains and it’s important to have this conversation,” Akers said, in a phone conversation with ESPN. “This needs to be looked at equally for women and men, and until now, it hasn’t been.”

Per the study, 40 players who have played a minimum of five years of organized soccer, with at least one of those years at the pro level or on a national or Olympic team, and at least two of those years coming after high school, will be studied.

The study will be led by Boston University professor of neurology Dr. Robert Stern, clinical research director for BU’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) center. It will be funded by the Concussion Legacy Foundation and the National Institute on Aging.

Akers, who had been dealing with migraines and memory lapses, stated that she initially didn’t make the connection to soccer, where she headed “around 50 balls a game”, in regards to her symptoms.

However, Akers thinking changed upon watching the documentary on retired English Premier League striker Alan Shearer called, “Dementia, Football and Me.”

“It made sense,” Akers said of the documentary. “I had never thought about CTE in the soccer world. I knew what was said about NFL players, but when I saw that documentary, I saw the connection to soccer. I thought, what are we doing about it? What’s going on around the world? I figured if this was happening to English professional players, then FIFA must be doing studies. There must be studies going on in the U.S. But when I started looking around, I found nothing.”

As the World Cup kicked off, Akers reached out to about 20 of her former teammates about the study, and currently has about 10 players signed on to participate.

While Akers isn’t ready to make the direct connecton between her symptoms and her playing career, aging, and/or genetics, she sees having an open conversation and begin research is valuable.

“It’s a subjective experience, so it’s difficult to determine if [the headaches and memory lapses] are Michelle being an airhead or overwhelmed and tired, or is this a post-concussion thing or CTE?,” Akers said.

“That’s what we’re exploring and why we want to provide support for others. I wish I knew this information when I was younger. I headed the ball so much. I practiced heading the ball. Had I known, I never would have done that. Heading the ball is risky. It does damage to your brain. Should we take heading out of soccer? I don’t know. That’s why we need research.”