As high school football season kicks off, increased concern over players, concussions

As high school football season kicks off, increased concern over players, concussions

As high school football season kicks off, there’s a heightened focus on player safety in light of the untimely death of Maryland offensive lineman Jordan McNair, who died from heatstroke earlier this summer.

This week, the university accepted “legal and moral” responsibility for McNair’s death, but local high schools in Wisconsin are increasing their attention to player safety as a result.

On Aug. 17, Madison Memorial and Sun Prairie will take the field in Madison, and while most players and fans will be focused on the score, trainers are focused on safety.

Doctors have long been worried about the long-term risks from the violent blows and concussions players receive on the field. But as football play starts in August, heat and humidity are a concern, as they can cause heat stroke.

According to the Mayo Clinic, heatstroke is caused by the body overheating, usually as a result of prolonged exposure or physical exertion in high temperatures. It’s considered the most serious form of heat injury by the clinic, happening when the body’s temperature rises to 104 degrees or higher.

If untreated, heatstroke can quickly damage a person’s brain, heart, kidneys, and muscles. Football players are particularly vulnerable because they practice, often wearing helmets, in the August heat.

Maryland’s McNair had a body temperature of 106 degrees when he was admitted to the hospital this past May, and nobody from Maryland called 911 until after he suffered a seizure on the field.

According to the results of an external investigation, Maryland staff didn’t take McNair’s temperature at the workout, didn’t apply a cold-water immersion treatment, and didn’t follow the emergency response plan appropriately.

Football players aren’t the only athletes who face risks, of course, but tackle football is the most popular high school sport in America with more than one million participants each year, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

The number of players who have died from heatstroke is growing. There were eight deaths across all levels of football from 2005 to 2009, according to the Korey Stringer Foundation. From 2010 to 2014, there were 14. Since 2015, there have already been eight deaths.

Most heatstroke cases arise during preseason conditions, when proper medical personnel may not be readily available, as well as during the first few games of the year, when it’s still hot and humid outside.

Data supports the belief that heatstroke is 100 percent survivable when treated aggressively and appropriately. But that’s why doctors say the statistics are concerning. There are cheap, effective interventions that can save lives, yet we are still seeing deaths.

Area trainers say football players need policies in place so everyone is aware of what steps should be taken if someone is experiencing heat stroke, a condition often confused for a variety of others.

Football players aren’t the only athletes susceptible to heatstroke.

What are the signs?

A throbbing headache
Lack of sweating despite the heat
Muscle cramps
Rapid heartbeat

If you, or anyone you know, if experiencing these symptoms, you should first get out of the heat, cool-down and drink water. If the symptoms persist or you have a fever of 104 degrees or higher, you should get medical help immediately.