Report finds 12 football deaths a year

Graham Manuel

A study published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine found that about 12 people die every year playing football in high school and college, which amounts to 1 in 100,000 football players. The study reviewed the reports from National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research between July 1990 and June 2010 where they were 243 football related deaths. Of those 243, 164 were indirect deaths (such as heat related death or sickle-cell trait deaths) and 79 were direct deaths (such as brain injury related deaths). The study found that indirect deaths increased during the second decade of the reports.

This study showed that deaths were more likely to occur in college than high school especially with heat illness (3.8 times higher) and sickle-cell trait or SCT (66 times higher). Brain injury related deaths are just slightly more common on the college level. Majority of the indirect injuries, in both high school and college, happened during practice, especially during preseason practice and conditioning. On the other hand, deaths due to brain injuries occurred during games. Over all, the most deaths occurred due to preseason practice and conditioning.

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA) has regulations, which were adopted in 2002, to help prevent indirect deaths such as heat illness. The regulations required the heat index to be taken and set guidelines based on that. The procedure was revised until 2007 where the KHSAA required that only a Digital Sling Psychrometer was to be used to measure heat index. It also stated that the Digital Sling Psychrometer must be used on site and no other readings will not be acceptable such as weather channel or local news. These regulations are mainly focused on outdoor sports but indoor sports are included as well.

The heat index must be taken 30 minutes before the start of practice/competition and has to be recorded on a KHSAA form. If the heat index is above 95 degrees Fahrenheit, then it must be taken every 30 minutes to determine if practice/competition can continue. If the heat index is under 95 degrees, then optional water breaks should be taken every 30 minutes for a period of ten minutes and ice-downed towels must be provided. If it is 95 to 99 then mandatory water breaks must be taken every 30 minutes for a period of ten minutes. In contact sports, helmets and other possible equipment must be removed when contact is not occurring. When it is 100 to 104, the uniform should be altered by removing items if it is possible. Coaches must allow players to change into dry clothing. In contact sports, helmets must be removed if it is not necessary for safety. If the equipment is necessary for safety then the activity cannot take place. When the heat index is higher than 104 for outdoor activity, the practice must stop. These regulations have to be used until the temperature is below 80 degrees.

The most recent death related to football in Louisville was in August 2008 when Max Gilpin, a 15-year-old Pleasure Ridge Park student, died after he collapsed from heat stroke during practice on a 94 degree day. This made him one of at least 665 kids nationally that has died from playing football in high school. The head coach of PRP at the time, Jason Stinson, was brought in on charges of reckless homicide in Gilpin’s death. Prosecutors said that the coach made his players run sprints without water breaks. Information released as part of a court filing showed that witnesses reported that Stinson told his players that everyone would run until someone quit and the quitter would be kicked off the team. After Gilpin collapsed, he was taken to the hospital where he died three days later.

No such incident has occurred at Manual and precautions are taken to prevent any such thing from happening.