High School Sports

‘Sarah’s story all too common,’ says ex-UNC and USA star Cindy Parlow Cone

In a 1999 women’s World Cup match against North Korea, Cindy Parlow Cone battles for a header. Parlow left soccer after a second concussion.
In a 1999 women’s World Cup match against North Korea, Cindy Parlow Cone battles for a header. Parlow left soccer after a second concussion. AP

Former UNC and U.S. national soccer team star Cindy Parlow Cone says Sarah Carlton’s story of health issues following soccer concussions is all too common – and parallels her own.

Parlow Cone, who coaches for Triangle United Soccer Club in Chapel Hill, was diagnosed with her first concussion in 2001 while playing in the Women’s United Soccer Association. As she jumped to head a ball, a teammate headed her in the temple. Knocked down and unconscious briefly, she got up and continued to play. Her second came two years later in the World Cup.

She is sure other concussions went undiagnosed. Doctors told her she could keep playing but warned they did not know how much worse her symptoms would be if she suffered another concussion. So she retired in 2006 at 28.

She still struggles with fatigue, daily headaches and jaw pain, plus vision and vestibular (inner ear balance) issues.

“I absolutely loved heading, and I was one of the best in the world at the time. I loved attacking the ball,” she says. “It was just later in my career that all those headers made me see stars.”

She and former U.S. World Cup teammate Brandi Chastain are working with the Concussion Legacy Foundation and the Santa Clara Institute of Sports Law and Ethics to promote a campaign to eliminate heading the ball in soccer until high school and age 14. That would stop years of additional head impact and delay the tactic until players have finished most of their growth and are better coordinated.

Research shows headers are responsible for about a third of soccer concussions – most often because of contact with another player, not the ball.

Parlow Cone is starting a company, ImVere, to develop a device to be worn by athletes. The device would detect and measure head impact and rotation of the head.

“We know a lot more now about concussions,” Parlow Cone said. “Because we know more, we have a responsibility to do a better job managing concussions. Winning any game or winning any tournament isn’t worth the risk of a child’s health.”

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