Exchange With Jim Thompson of the Positive Coaching Alliance Regarding the Santa Clara University Institute on Sports Law and Ethics, the ‘Gold Sponsor’ San Francisco 49ers, and Soccer

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Irvin Muchnick’s book, CONCUSSION INC.: The End of Football As We Know It, is available in bookstores, or from Amazon at


Below is an email exchange today with Jim Thompson, CEO of the Positive Coaching Alliance and a member of the advisory board of the Santa Clara University Institute on Sports Law and Ethics. Yesterday I published an article roundly criticizing ISLE and its annual Sports Law Symposium. The piece included an error, whose correction is the jumping-off point of our exchange.


[Thompson to Muchnick]


In reading your recent piece on ISLE, I believe you are mischaracterizing the Safer Soccer initiative.  You described it as

“…an educational campaign, assisted by Chastain, to get kids to sign a pledge not to head balls in soccer…”

I fear you have misread the initiative.  The idea is to get organizations that control youth soccer to ban heading until the age of 14, not ask individual kids to pledge not to head.  This initiative, which PCA supports, was launched by the Sports Legacy Institute and can prevent a huge number of head injuries in children at a time when they most need that protection.  Here is the SLI web site with more info:

I understand you are frustrated with ISLE but I would have thought that something like Safer Soccer would be something you would support.  Am I wrong?

You further say, “…this initiative (a) distracts from the existential crisis of sports-related traumatic brain injury, which overwhelmingly means American tackle football; and (b) emphasizes the agency of individual self-reporting athletes, even when they’re children, over the responsibility of custodial institutions.”

This is incorrect.  SLI is also working on tackle football for U14 kids, and I think it is shortsighted to criticize either ISLE or SLI for also going after heading by kids in soccer.

My 2 cents.  Thanks for listening.

By the way, I’m sorry you won’t be attending the conference this year.  I look forward to your take on things.  Hopefully you’ll change your mind.



[Muchnick to Thompson]


I did re-read the soccer initiative material, and I conclude that you are right on that fact and I am wrong. Thanks for pointing it out. I’ll be posting our exchange here as a corrective follow-up article. (And the original article will have a boldface note pointing to the correction.)

As you surely know, I still have numerous problems with how soccer safety, an issue on the comparative margins, conveniently takes up mental shelf space in the far larger and more urgent national discussion of systematic traumatic brain injury — and other widespread catastrophic injuries and death — in football. I am 1,000 percent right about that, so I decline your implied invitation to broaden the scope of the correction.

I’ve written plenty, good and bad, about Chris Nowinski and the Sports Legacy Institute. In this critique of the Santa Clara Institute of Sports Law and Ethics, I wasn’t saying a word about them. I find it both cheesy and predictable for ISLE and its symposium to be hiding behind Nowinski and Brandi Chastain.

Yes, there is an unquantifiable tactical value in confronting the less prosperous, and therefore more amenable, soccer establishment, rather than the tackle football-industrial complex. But the root of the problem from my perspective is that Santa Clara University takes money from a truly sinister operation, the San Francisco 49ers, and in the end, not so coincidentally, funds saying only the nicest, safest things about how to prevent a secondary and much more easily avoidable form of head injuries in youth sports. That, Jim, is the definition of “distraction.”

When it comes to football, ISLE impanels people like the athletic director of a private high school, who at the 2013 symposium made the ridiculous claim that his program costs only $80,000 a year. When it comes to a topical domestic violence conversation involving the 49ers themselves, ISLE kisses up and cuts it off. When it comes to sex abuse — some of it perhaps committed by several of the very coaches and organization heads taking the no-header pledge for soccer — you are simply missing in action. (Sorry, I don’t think teaming up with the Green Bay Packers to produce videos promoting “abuse awareness” cuts it.)

That is why I don’t anticipate burning fossil fuels for a 50-mile drive to look in on how the next edition of the Sports Law Symposium plays out.



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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick