MLS Must Act with Urgency
Major League Soccer and the Players Union barely missed a work stoppage—agreeing to a five-year CBA that will continue to restrict players’ rights.
The season is now in full swing. But certain issues remain unresolved.
As MLS and the Players Union hammer out the specifics of the new CBA, health and safety should be deemed an urgent priority. MLS has an obligation to maintain a safe work environment. This means that MLS must promulgate rules that are in the best interest of the players.
The Substitution Rule is the antithesis of this obligation. Under this Rule, a team is only allowed three substitutions per game. There is no exception for injured or concussed players. This has the obvious effect of putting “strategy” above the health and safety of the players. Moreover, it creates external pressure on the players, coaches and medical staff to ignore suspected concussions due to the threat of forcing a team to play shorthanded shortfooted.
Concussions are already difficult to diagnosis. It’s unrealistic to rely upon a concussed player to remove himself from play. Compounding the problem is the threat that if a player is forthright with the medical staff, he could be viewed as letting his team down, especially if it forces the team to play with only 10 players. Quite opposite to creating an environment that incentivizes players to report their injuries, the Substitution Rule impedes this, thus creating a dangerous work environment. This also impacts the medical team’s evaluation of the player.
In 2012, an MLS-affiliated doctor admitted the Rule hindered a practitioner’s ability to exercise his or her clinical judgment: “What’s different are the rules as in soccer, we have rules about substitution that make it difficult to do the kinds of evaluations that we would do in the NFL or even in the NFL,” Dr. Ruben Echemendia said.
While the dissenters have argued that allowing a concussion-substitution exception would create an incentive for cheaters, this position consistently rings hollow. Setting aside the fact that soccer (and basketball) players are notorious for their acting skills in order to draw penalties, the reality remains that new rules often create incentives to find grey areas. When balanced against the threat of a fatal brain injury, it is obvious which is more important.
It’s time for MLS and the Players to modify the Substitution Rule. The Rule’s failures have already been noted this season. Major League Baseball chose to buck the status quo when it outlawed collisions at home plate. While seen initially as a drastic change by the dissenters, MLB and the Players realized that safety trumps convenience.
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