You can add the name Jordan McNair to the list of college, high school and middle school players who might have needlessly died for the love of football.
A simple, well-known procedure — immersing McNair, 19, in a tub of ice water — when he collapsed at an offseason University of Maryland workout in May could well have saved his life. But it didn’t happen. This failure drew national attention to how unprepared many football programs are to keep their players safe.
Last year, 13 high school and college players died from incidents that include heat stroke, head injuries and sudden cardiac arrest.
Just two weeks ago in Crowley, Texas, Kyrell McBride-Johnson, 13, collapsed at a middle school practice and died that night. His mother told the Dallas Morning News he was signaling for water before collapsing. An autopsy has not been completed, but the death of anyone so young raises troubling questions. The simple truth is that player safety at too many schools and colleges comes in a poor second to winning. Even as the climate warms, colleges, high schools and middle schools are starting football season earlier than they used to.
Five decades ago, Notre Dame and Michigan opened their seasons on the third Saturday of September and Ohio State on the fourth Saturday. This year, spurred by longer seasons and lucrative TV schedules, all three teams played their first game Sept. 1, necessitating practices in midsummer heat. High schools and middle schools mimic the college schedules. Starting the season later could by itself reduce the number of heat stroke deaths. But even with the current schedule, schools know how to prevent potentially fatal incidents and to rescue students if they occur. In 2013, leading sports medicine groups and the National Federation of State High School Associations endorsed a list of best practices to prevent injuries and save lives.
Grading states against that list and other smart practices, the University of Connecticut’s Korey Stringer Institute found that 28 states (including Minnesota) have not put in place half the measures to keep students safe. California and Colorado, with the worst records, employ less than a third.
That’s inexcusable. Many of the policies are common sense and carry minimal costs. Preventing heat stroke, for example, requires players in hot weather to acclimate: no more than one practice a day, and no practice lasting more than three hours. But the majority of states don’t require this, according to Douglas Casa, the Stringer Institute’s CEO. Nor do all states require that cold-water immersion tubs be on hand; a tub costs about $150, can be bought at a hardware store and is known to save lives. Many don’t have an emergency plan posted on the field and known to all school staff.
And just a handful require an athletic trainer on site for all “collision/contact” practices. Yes, this costs some money, but the cost of a single staff member with medical training is not too much to ask.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN USA TODAY