Interesting AJC story today about heat-related deaths among football players, of which Georgia has the highest reported incidences, according to a new UGA study.
The study found that overall heat-related deaths have tripled in the last 15 years and that most occurred in August and in the eastern half of the U.S.
I had a recent discussion with a longtime national sportswriter about the disturbing research on football injuries, including studies that found NFL players who suffered concussions experiencing more problems with speech, memory, headaches and concentration. Another study by UNC’s Center for the Study of Retired Athletes found that pro players who had multiple concussions in their careers are more likely to suffer depression.
This veteran sportswriter told me that he thought it was possible that football would someday not be played at the high school and middle school levels because of the dangers of lasting brain injuries.
In a column earlier this month, Joe Nocera of The New York Times wrote about the lifelong toll of football injuries. He interviewed retired players about their health challenges. I thought this passage was compelling:
After talking to Booth, I tracked down one other person from Super Bowl X: Jean Fugett, now a lawyer in Baltimore. “Would I play football again if I could do it all over again? Probably,” he said. “But I cried when my youngest son took a football scholarship.”
Today, says Fugett, he can’t sleep more than three hours a stretch without feeling pain somewhere in his body. He has no idea, he told me, how many concussions he sustained; back then, “you didn’t take yourself out of the game unless you stuffed two ammonia tablets up your nose and your head didn’t jerk back. That’s when you knew you were really concussed.” And he views himself as one of the lucky ones. Most of the former players he knows live with far more pain than he does.
Thanks to rule changes aimed at lessening the chances of career-ending injuries, football is a tad less dangerous than it once was. But it is still a game whose appeal lies in its violent nature. You cannot play football at the professional level without having it affect — and quite possibly shorten — the rest of your life. “I don’t think anyone should play tackle football before high school,” Fugett told me before getting off the phone. “Kids’ bodies are not ready.”
“Flag football,” he said, “is a wonderful game.”
Back to the heath-related deaths. According to AJC reporter Joel Provano:
In the 15-year period before 1994, there was an average of one death per year nationwide; between 1994 and 2009 the number was almost three per year, according to the study, published in the International Journal of Biometeorology. Georgia had the most deaths of any state, with six.
Researchers found evidence that elevated morning temperatures and humidity may have contributed to the trend.
“In general, on days the deaths occurred, the temperature was hotter and the air more humid than normal local conditions,” said Andrew Grundstein, a UGA climatologist and senior author of the study. But Grundstein cautioned against assigning blame only to warmer temperatures and higher humidity, noting that players are much larger now than they were 30 years ago. Linemen, who are typically the largest players, accounted for 86 percent of heat-related deaths. “We all want a single magic number to indicate the heat threshold,” he said. “But so many factors contribute to heat stress that it’s impossible to draw the line at a single temperature.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog