by Irvin Muchnick
There is the social critique of football – the overwhelming evidence, in my view, that this sport is a hazard to public health in multiple ways.
Then there is the work of those inside the industry who try, at very minimum, to raise consciousness of and eliminate the worst aspects of football’s dangers. One of those people is Scott Anderson, head athletic trainer at the University of Oklahoma and a soon to be an inductee of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Hall of Fame. It is a sign of the universal professional respect for Anderson that he was named to this honor even though he is president of a somewhat competing trade group, the College Athletic Trainers’ Society.
Last month Anderson convened a meeting of colleagues to focus on a topic that has gotten urgently worse: deaths during conditioning drills of players – most often large linemen – from exertional heatstroke (EHS). The most recent flashpoint was the death last year of Tirrell Williams at Fort Scott Community College. Following the 2018 Braeden Bradforth fatality at Garden City Community College, Williams was the second EHS death of a 19-year-old in a span of a little more than three years just at junior college football programs in the state of Kansas.
Given sporadic levels of reporting, and the mislabeling by coroners and the media of at least some EHS episodes as random heart incidents, there is no telling the true annual toll of extreme football conditioning drills at all sub-NFL levels: pee-wee, high school, junior college, National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Anderson’s former colleague, retired Oklahoma football team physician Dr. E. Randy Eichner, decried the “warrior culture” of some coaches in his column last fall for Current Sports Medicine Reports. Eichner noted that nine players died last summer. “All nine were linemen. All nine were at the mercy of demanding coaches in brutal heat. All nine were teenagers.”