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High School Football Players Are Dying: Why?


Tyrell Cameron, a sixteen year old football player from Franklin Parish, Louisiana, died from a hard tackle that appears to have caused a broken neck. Ben Hamm, a junior linebacker from Bartlesville, Oklahoma, died after being in a coma for a week following the traumatic brain injury he received during a game. Evan Murray, a seventeen year old quarterback from Northwest New Jersey died from massive internal bleeding caused by a lacerated spleen after being tackled during a game. Kenny Bui, also seventeen, was a wide receiver and defensive end for his Seattle, Washington, football team. He died from blunt force traumas to his head, receiving the first concussion in one game and being cleared to play in the next game where he received the second and fatal concussion.

What do these four high school football players have in common besides their deaths? They all died within one month of play of the sport in 2015. This fatality rate--four in one month or one per week--does not occur in college or pro football. The question is: why? Why is college football the most dangerous sport?


Second-impact syndrome occurs when a player is concussed once and then sent in to play before he is fully recovered and he becomes concussed a second time. The second impact can be fatal, particularly in young athletes; 95% of second-impact syndrome deaths are in athletes under 18 years old because their brains are not fully mature and are therefore more susceptible to traumatic brain injury.

But second-impact syndrome is really a function of two larger issues: (1) the lack of athletic trainers with sports medicine experience at all practices and games; and (2) the lack of consistent safety standards and regulations. Only 37% of high school football teams have full-time trainers at practices and games. Without a professional on hand to evaluate a player who has been hit to determine whether the player has suffered a concussion, and whether the player is able to continue to practice or play, players are at much greater risk of playing with a concussion and therefore at risk of second-impact syndrome. Of course, having an athletic trainer at every practice and game can make a life-saving difference for other types of injuries, too. Heat stroke and cardiac problems need not be lethal if diagnosed and treated immediately by an onsite athletic trainer with proper experience and equipment.


Making sure high school football teams have proper safety equipment speaks to the second issue, the lack of consistent safety standards and regulations. High school football is the least regulated level of football, so it should be no surprise that it is the level with the most injuries. Older equipment and helmets used in high school football may not meet the safety standards of college and pro football. So-called smart helmets utilize the latest technology to assess the risk of the wearer for a concussion, and although these sophisticated safety devices may be too pricey for every high school team, regulations mandating sufficiently protective equipment for all high schools would go a long way toward eliminating injuries. Sports concussion laws exist in every state and D.C., but they vary greatly. Making the laws consistent and stricter would also go a long way toward eliminating injuries.


Players, coaches, trainers and fans all need to be aware of the terrible consequences of a player with a concussion going undiagnosed and continuing to play, or being cleared to return to play too soon. Similarly, everyone involved with high school football needs to understand how essential it is to have medical personnel and equipment onsite to deal with whatever emergency arises. Education and awareness of these issues will lead to a safer sport.


If your child or a loved one is injured while playing a school sport, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free evaluation of your legal rights.

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