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Field Hockey Brain Injury Lawsuit Puts Spotlight on Female Sports

Girls playing field hockey

A 19-year-old New Hampshire woman has filed a lawsuit against her former field hockey club after sustaining a traumatic brain injury at practice when she was 16 years old. The suit alleges the sports club was negligent in a range of actions that led to the injury. Traumatic brain injuries in women often do not receive the same attention as those in men, but researchers believe female athletes could be at greater risk of suffering a brain injury than male athletes.

Traumatic Brain Injury Was Suffered After Hit at Practice

Elizabeth Tvetter was only 16 years old in January 2014 when she went to the indoor field hockey arena in Hampton, New Hampshire, to practice with her team, which was organized by the Seacoast United Sports Club. It was the first practice of the season. Afterward, the girls gathered at the edge of the field while the field hockey director, coach, and assistant coach joined them. The director, Samantha Carr, was facing the team and speaking to them, while coach Melyssa Woods and an assistant coach, the suit refers to as Jane Doe, stood behind the girls.

The field hockey brain injury lawsuit alleges that Carr, Woods, and the assistant coach should have known that Carr addressing the team meant play would be stopped and would not resume again—and that no balls would be hit—until the team had been alerted to it starting. The suit goes on to say, however, that the assistant coach was standing unnecessarily close to Tvetter when she “inexplicably swung her field hockey stick at the field hockey ball.” The field hockey ball hit Tvetter in the head, causing a traumatic brain injury, among other injuries.

Negligence, Improper Supervision Named in Field Hockey Lawsuit

Tvetter claims in her lawsuit, that the traumatic injury came at “a significant time in her academic studies and development as a young adult.” It also says that the brain injury resulted in her spending time away from her classes and prevented her from receiving scholarships. The suit alleges that even today, three years later, Tvetter continues to receive treatment for the injuries she sustained at the fateful practice and that she has missed not only employment opportunities as a student, but was not able to fully pursue her athletic interests and athletic career.

The brain injury lawsuit lists the following among its claims of Seacoast United Sport’s Club’s negligence:

  • It did not maintain safe playing conditions
  • It did not properly train its field hockey coaches
  • It did not properly supervise its field hockey practices, coaches or arena
  • It did not properly warn student-athletes when active competition or physical drills were to begin

Brain Injury Lawsuit Against American University in Courts Now

Tvetter’s lawsuit is not the first of its kind. Former American University field hockey player Jennifer Bradley currently has a lawsuit pending against American University, the National College Athletic Association (NCAA), the federal government, and her medical providers, alleging that all four improperly handled a concussion that Bradley suffered while competing in a game for the school in 2011.

The lawsuit, which was filed in 2014, claims that despite Bradley showing signs of concussion and verbalizing this to her coaches, they allowed her to continue practicing and playing with the team. This delay of treatment, the case says, had lasting effects on Bradley’s health.

A federal judge ruled in April of 2017 that Bradley’s case can continue against the various organizations.

Women’s Brain Injuries Often Go Ignored

Lawsuits and fatalities from traumatic brain injuries in professional sports such as football, hockey, and boxing have drawn attention to the incredible risks of such harm, but the focus has long been almost solely on brain injuries in men. Ironically, research has shown that women are actually at higher risk of sustaining a brain injury.

Research highlighted in a recent ESPN article entitled “Why Does it Seem Like Nobody Cares about Female Concussions?”, says that in a sport that both men and women play, such as soccer, women have a 50 percent higher rate of concussions. Furthermore, women who play sports and suffer brain trauma “tend to suffer different symptoms, take longer to recover, and hold back information about their injuries for different reasons than males.”

The article quotes Jill Brooks, a clinical neuropsychologist, who emphasizes how women are being shortchanged when it comes to brain injuries.

“More and more of the athletes I have seen over time are young women, and I’ve found they get less information about concussion from their coaches, and from the media too, than men,” Brooks said. “They are struggling to deal with their particular symptoms and often not being taken as seriously as they should be. The sports world is much more accepting of girls and women as athletes but still gives the topic of their concussions short shrift.”

A Changing Tide?

Subtle shifts may indicate that female brain injuries may one day get the attention of their male counterparts. Florida recently became the first state to make it mandatory for high school girls who play lacrosse to wear protective equipment that covers the entire head. High school boys are required to wear such headgear, but it was only in 2017 that the National Federation of State High School Associations allowed the optional use of two models of headgear for girls.

The reception, however, has been rocky. Some coaches and players believe that the helmets will give other players the idea that they can be more aggressive and take more swings that go near the head.

To some people, the answer to the dilemma is obvious. Dawn Comstock teaches at the University of Colorado and studies high school sports injuries. Addressing the issue in an interview with Newsday, Comstock made her standpoint clear.

“This is simply a very silly argument,” Comstock said. “Helmets protect kids—period. Any unintended consequence associated with increased recklessness, as highly unlikely as I believe it would be, would be a problem of poor parenting, coaching, and officiating rather than something that can be attributed to the helmet.”



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