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Football Needs to Up Its Game on Head Injuries

12/08/2015 19:34 BST | Updated 12/08/2016 10:59 BST

There have probably been enough opinion pieces written about Arsenal's 2-0 loss to West Ham that if you printed them out, they'd reach to the moon and knock that smug little American flag over.

But that's all been about Petr Cech, or Arsenal's hubris, or how Arsenal fans can't win the league with internet polls alone (tell that to Sky Sports News, eh?). The odd piece has given some credit to West Ham, which is fair, because they played very well. Their terrifyingly young midfielder Reece Oxford played with the brilliant assured arrogance of youth - and that's meant in the very best way.

In among all the snarking at Piers Morgan's band of merry warriors and the "what does a 16 year old have in his pockets? iPhone, gum, Mesut Ozil" jokes, something pretty important skated through almost entirely unremarked upon.

If you watched the match, you saw it. Olivier Giroud and James Tomkins went down in a sickening clash of heads, which saw both of them sprawled out on the floor. Tomkins looked in pain, but it was Giroud who caught the eye.

For about a second, he propped himself up onto an elbow and tried to get up, before crumpling and falling limply to the turf where he lay motionless until Nacho Monreal sprinted over to check on him and immediately manhandled his prone form into the recovery position.

There wasn't a hint of protest from Giroud at any point. He was limp in Monreal's arms like a dead weight as he was moved around and didn't look like he moved under his own power for a good 15-20 seconds, when the medics started to treat him.

He was treated on the pitch for a bit, then taken straight off to hospital for a check-up and given a couple of days off training, with slowly incrementing recovery and won't be allowed to play full contact matches for a full week after the injury - at least.

Hang on, no, that's not right. Actually, he was allowed to stay on and finish the match and went home that evening as normal. That's absolutely absurd.

Arsenal have insisted that he didn't lose consciousness at any point and we've no choice but to take them at their word on that. Of course, they have no choice but to take Giroud's word for it and the not-medically-trained Monreal who was the first man to 'treat' him, before the medics got to the scene.

Even if he wasn't knocked unconscious, he was clearly completely dazed by the incident - you don't limply let someone put you in the recovery position if you're loving life. To allow him to play on was at best irresponsible and at worst outright dangerous.

How many more warnings do sports need about head injuries? Sense is beginning to prevail in rugby, where George North has been out for over four months with concussion. Why is he out for that long? He was allowed to keep playing after being briefly knocked out on the pitch and injured himself further. Sound familiar?

Even cricket, notoriously behind the times and slavishly devoted to tradition in a number of ways, has been forced to pay attention. Australia batsman Chris Rogers missed a full series earlier this summer because his medical staff were making sure that he was in good health before risking further injury.

Football will never have an NFL-style head injury epidemic, there isn't enough contact for that. But it is worth risking the health and well-being of any player for half a chance at grabbing an extra point? Not in any universe I've ever heard of.

The 'let the player decide for himself' brigade come out in force any time that head injuries are discussed, to which there are two strands of argument.

One: The player has a bloody head injury, for crying out loud. Half the point is that they aren't necessarily thinking clearly.

Two: People are idiots when it comes to their own health. This is literally why we have people who are trained to make medical decisions. Have you ever known a person who's refused to go home from work with a cold, or other illness? Of course you do. This is like that, except it's a person's brain at stake.

This might not be the sexiest topic of football conversation and it might be a pain to get anybody reading it, but we have to. As a footballing community, we have to keep talking about this. For the good of the game, and for the health of the people playing it.

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