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Study Finds 2002 a Safer Season for Football Players

Study Finds 2002 a Safer Season for Football Players


In what has turned out to be a pleasant surprise, no deaths from heatstroke occurred among young U.S. football players during the 2002 season, a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study shows.

The safer season was a surprise since 21 players died from heatstroke between 1995 and 2001, an average of three a year, said Dr. Frederick Mueller, professor and chair of exercise and sport science in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences.

“We have been concerned because heat-related deaths are either entirely or almost entirely avoidable,” Mueller says. “Fatalities like these often meant someone forgot to emphasize or practice what we and others have been reminding coaches and trainers about for years. Players should get all the water they want in practice and have frequent cooling-off breaks to prevent these tragedies.”

No heatstroke deaths have been recorded yet during the 2003 season either, but practices across the nation are just now getting under way, he said.

Five players died during 2002 as a direct result of injuries suffered on the field, including three in high school, one in youth football and one in a semi-professional New York league. All five fatalities came following severe head injuries.

“Ten others died in ways not directly tied to the game but more from natural causes provoked by vigorous exercise,” Mueller says. “Five happened among high school students, four were in college and one boy was participating in youth football. Of the 10, eight deaths came from heart-related causes, one from asthma and one was undetermined.”

Mueller, chairman of the American Football Coaches’ Committee of Football Injuries, directs the UNC-based National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injuries. Each year, the center produces reports on deaths and severe injuries from amateur and professional sports.

Reports are based partly on newspaper stories from around the United States collected and submitted by about 150 volunteers who monitor sports accidents, along with information from the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the National Federation of State High School Associations.

A Yale University faculty member began the yearly football death and injury survey in 1931. It moved to Purdue University in 1942 and has been at UNC since 1965.

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