Taylor Branch’s new Atlantic article, “The Shame of College Sports,” has stimulated discussion and rightly so.
But while we talk about whether college football players should be paid, I raise a related question: Should high school football players be killed?
In his guest column for this blog, Matt Chaney (http://blog.fourwallspublishing.com) – author of the superb history and analysis of the steroid issue, Spiral of Denial – compiles the grim story of death in American football in 2011. So far.
Fatality Rate Unchanged: Football Remains Unsafe Game
by Matt Chaney
The sobering fatality rate of tackle football, juvenile deaths primarily—or the type of grid news America wants to ignore—is ahead of pace this season, spurred by an abnormal run of lethal cases amid excessive summer heat plaguing most the nation.
And that’s bad news for football advocates, trying to fend off modern threats against the nationalistic blood sport, health issues led by brain injuries and lasting damage to players.
“Safer football” it already isn’t in 2011, making mockery of the promise of game advocates who propose to control inherent risks and injury through rule changes, “proper” contact, “concussion testing” and more their ideas.
Through Sept. 9, American football had caused or likely contributed to deaths of at least 10 teenagers, one college player and a small boy, according to news reports.
The college player, Derek Sheely, 22, is the only fatality confirmed of head trauma thus far, with autopsy results of various cases incomplete, pending or withheld. News reports show the other cases are largely of “indirect” relation to football, or not resulting from contact, according to classifications by the National Center for Catastrophic Injury Research, which publishes an annual report.
Football fatalities in the news for 2011 include:
*Luke Killian, age 16, of North Carolina, a lineman who died on May 12 “possibly from heat exhaustion,” reports Athletic Business magazine, after he worked out with friends on the Morganton Mountaineers, a team of home-schooled boys.
*Samuel Gitt, 17, Pennsylvania, a lineman who died July 22 after collapsing in a dormitory at Albright College, where he was attending a football camp. Autopsy results are incomplete but cause of death was not heat-related and involved other medical factors, according to the Berks County Coroner’s Office.
*Isaiah Laurencin, 17, Florida, a lineman who died July 27 of cardiac arrest, reports The Miami Herald. Autopsy results are incomplete.
*Tyquan Brantley, 14, South Carolina, a linebacker who died July 30 following a morning practice at Lamar High School. Autopsy results revealed the teen was stricken by “sickle cell crisis,” reports SCNow.com.
*Don’terio J. Searcy, 16, Georgia, a lineman who died Aug. 2 following a morning practice for Fitzgerald High School, which was staging summer workouts at a Bible camp in northern Florida. Heat may have been a factor, authorities said, but no autopsy results are yet available.
*Forrest Jones, 16, Georgia, a lineman who also died on Aug. 2, possibly of heatstroke or heat exhaustion, reports The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The youth had been hospitalized a week after passing out during a voluntary workout at Locust Grove High School.
*Montel Williams, 15, Arkansas, a defensive end who died Aug. 9 after collapsing at practice for Gurdon High School. Preliminary autopsy results indicate “a cardiac incident from an unknown pre-existing medical condition,” reports FOX16.com.
*Sheely, 22, Maryland, a fullback for Frostburg State University who died Aug. 28, following one week in a hospital. The player’s father, Kenneth Sheely, says cause of death was a brain injury resulting from a helmet-to-helmet collision.
*Al Smith Jr., 15, Texas, a lineman who died Sept. 1, following his collapse the previous day during practice at Eisenhower High School. Cause of death has not been released.
*Kishon Cooper, 7, Florida, a youth-league player who died Sept. 5 at his home, after collapsing while playing football with his father. An autopsy is underway.
*Latrell Dunbar, 16, Mississippi, a running back who died Sept. 9 after collapsing during a game for D’lberville High School. A coroner concluded Dunbar suffered “an acute cardiac event,” reports The Associated Press.
*Brian Rushing, 17, Virginia, a lineman who died in the overnight following a Sept. 9 game for Franklin High School. Preliminary autopsy results indicate an “unknown heart condition” was a factor, reports The Tidewater News.
The 12 deaths suggest year 2011 should ultimately top the 17 football fatalities reported for 2010 and the 18 for 2009, but cooler months of the sport season typically yield fewer cases.
For contact deaths in American football, the single case of Sheely in 2011 is commiserate so far with the annual average of three or four reported. Last year there were six fatalities of collisions reported in American football, mostly head injuries, while 2009 had three reported.
Bottom line, no fundamental shift has occurred in the fatality rates of American football over recent years—or in the supposed new era of “culture change” to “safer football.”