They were some of the biggest soccer stars of the U.S. Women's National Team. But Friday, former members of the 1999 World Cup team are dealing with long term injuries.
This week, Michelle Akers and Brandi Chastain announced they would be joining a study at Boston University to examine repetitive head impacts they sustained during their time in the sport.
"Michelle Akers has had migraines for decades. Brandi Chastain says that she every so often can't remember things that happened last week," said Dr. Robert Stern.
That is why Stern will be examining both, along with 18 other players, as part of his research into chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease.
In-depth news coverage of the Greater Boston Area.
For years, the clinical director of BU's CTE Center has been researching the disease in football players, many of whom have played in the NFL. However, Stern decided it was time focus on women's soccer, a sport that has grown in popularity and competition.
"This is the first study of former women athletes to see what is going on in their brains," Stern said. "It's long overdue."
The repeated heading of the ball, along with other physical contact, has long been a concern within the medical community. Young players are no longer trained on heading as a precaution and coaches are expected to understand how to look for concussions in players.
"I coach now and that is all we talk about. There's a concussion policy. If your child or any child on your team has had a concussion, they have to report it," said Missy Kilgore, a former player and coach.
While Kilgore thinks in some cases, the younger players could use more training for how to use their heads in the game, she is encouraged by the interest in female players.
"I like that they're focusing on them, and it's good for women's soccer," Kilgore said. "Bring it to the forefront because it never seems to be highlighted."
Akers, Chastain and the other soccer players participating in the are all over 40 and have spent at least one year playing for the U.S. team, the Olympic team or a professional league. They will be visiting Boston in the coming weeks to undergo testing over two days.
Stern expects they will see the first results of their work in approximately one year.
"What this might mean is soccer has to change. I'm hoping it doesn't. I'm hoping that we are not going to find that this is really a big deal," Stern explained. "But there's already been several former professional soccer players, men, who were found to have CTE after they died. Now, we need to see if maybe women have the same possible risk as men."