Len Oliver enjoyed a long and varied career in soccer. (Photo from Len Oliver’s Facebook page)
By Michael Lewis
Len Oliver, a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame who said he would donate his brain to science after he died, has passed away.
The Philadelphia native was 88.
Former Georgetown University men’s head coach Keith Tabatznik announced Oliver’s passing on his Facebook page.
“Len Oliver used to say to club leaders that they must do what is best for the game and players first and what is good for the club last,” Tabatznik wrote. “Never forgot the first time I heard this. Len passed away this morning. US Soccer Hall of Fame and simply put a legend amongst legends. Friend, mentor, colleague and someone who has definitely left things a whole lot better for the game and the players. RIP Len. 🇺🇸⚽️”
Added Fred Matthes, a soccer consultant in the Washington, D.C. area, on his Facebook page: “For those who may not have ever met Len, he was an icon to DC and US Soccer and a tremendous friend for over 25 years from D.C. United and Virginia / DC Soccer Hall of Fame … He passed today at the age of 88 years old and will be missed by all those that he ever met, and by many whom he may never met but had an impact on in their Soccer careers by his love for, and his efforts in helping to grow, the game of Soccer.
“Rest in Peace, Len and to those on that great Soccer pitch in Heaven … Watch out for those slide tackles !
Oliver distinguished himself as a player, winning the Under-19 national championships with the Lighthouse Boys Club in the 1948 and 1949 before enjoying an outstanding career with Temple University. He competed for the Philadelphia Nationals in the American Soccer League, Uhrik Truckers, Ludlow Lusitano and Baltimore Pompei.
He also played for the U.S. team that finished 0-4 at the Pan-American Games in 1963.
In recent years, Oliver made headlines for another reasons.
In an interview with Steve Goff of the Washington Post in 2016, Oliver said that he would donate his brain and spinal cord to scientists researching the impact of concussions and head injuries. At the time, he was finalizing details with the Concussion Legacy Foundation. That foundation works with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the CTE Center at Boston University in studying brain trauma in athletes and at-risk groups.
At the time, U.S. women’s national team standout Brandi Chastain said that she would donate her brain for similar observation after she died.
“She’s 47,” Oliver told the Post in 2016. “It might be 40-50 years before they get to her. I could pass tomorrow.”
Oliver said he suffered six head injuries during his career. Concussions were not part of the sports’ vocabulary at the time. All of the injures were the result of head-to-head collisions, not heading the ball, the Post reported.
“Take an old guy, take a guy who has been in the sport his entire life, and take a look,” he was quoted by the Post. “If there’s nothing there, good.”
After his retirement, Oliver coached and officiated in soccer. He eventually earned a doctorate from the University of Chicago, starting a career in humanities and continuing education. He became a soccer historian in his later years.
Oliver was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1996, the Philadelphia Old Timers Hall of Fame in 1998 and the Virginia-DC Soccer Hall of Fame in 2001 and Eastern Pennsylvania Soccer Association’s Hall of Fame in 2015.
He also served on numerous soccer boards and committees, including DC Stoddert Soccer, DC Soccer, Virginia-DC Soccer Hall of Fame (chair), NSCAA’s (now United Soccer Coaches) editorial board and NSCAA’s Youth Long-Term Service Award Committee (chair).
Oliver is survived by his wife Eleanor Wahlbrinck, two daughters, Erika and Britt-Karin and two granddaughters.
Memorial service details are pending.