Heatstroke dangers reinforced by investigation into death of college football player

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Minnesota Vikings Pro-Bowl tackle Korey Stringer’s death at practice in 2001 led to increased awareness and education on the dangers of heatstroke during summer football conditioning.

But it hasn’t come close to eliminating the threat, according to Rebecca Stearns, chief operating officer for Korey Stringer Foundation.

“We see an average of about three deaths per year from heatstroke across all levels,” Stearns told USA TODAY Sports. “But the last five years have been really telling because we have seen a gradual increase in the number of exertional heatstroke deaths.”

The issue is in the news again this weekend. The University of Maryland put head football coach DJ Durkin on leave Saturday evening, a day after putting other athletic department personnel on leave as an investigation continues into the death of a football player during offseason workouts earlier this summer.

Jordan McNair, a 19-year-old offensive lineman, died after suffering heatstroke on May 29, according to a foundation named after the player.

Late Friday, ESPN reported on an atmosphere of “fear and humiliation” that included verbal abuse at Maryland under Durkin. Specifically cited as helping create that culture was strength and conditioning coach Rick Court. 

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.”

The Mayo Clinic refers to it as “the most serious form of heat injury.”  It occurs if a body’s temperature rises to 104 degrees or higher. Untreated heatstroke can quickly damage a person’s brain, heart, kidneys and muscles.

More: Will Muschamp: Article criticizing Maryland’s DJ Durkin lacked ‘journalistic integrity’

More: Maryland coach DJ Durkin placed on leave as school investigates football team’s culture

Football players are vulnerable because they practice, often wearing helmets, in the August heat. Besides, McNair, defensive back Darius Minor of Maine also collapsed and died at a workout, and a state of Washington high school player also died. The cause of death for McNair is to be determined. The high school player, according to Q13 Fox TV, was determined the King County medical examiner to be hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an abnormal enlargement of the heart.

Football players certainly are not the only one affected. Oklahoma Fox affiliate KXII reported this week that members of the Atoka High School marching band suffered from severe dehydration and heatstroke after they took part in a practice. According to KXII, six members of the Atoka band were taken to a clinic and three were hospitalized.

According to Stearns, there were eight deaths from heatstroke across all levels of football from 2005 to 2009. From 2010 to 2014, there were 14.  Eight players have died since 2015.

Stearns said the encouraging news about heatstroke is that there’s strong data to support the belief that there “is 100 percent survival when it is treated aggressively and appropriately.”

“That is why (the death rate) is very concerning from our perspective,” Stearns said. “We have some cheap, effective interventions that can save lives and we are still seeing deaths.”

Stearns said most heatstroke cases arise during preseason conditioning, when proper medical personnel may not be readily available. “And, unfortunately a lot of policies are not in place to act aggressively enough and quickly enough to treat exertional heatstroke when it does happen,” she said.  “You need policies in place, so everyone is aware of what steps should be taken and you need a medical professional present who can identify the condition. Unfortunately, heatstroke can be confused with many other conditions.”

Stringer died of heatstroke during the Vikings’ 2001 training camp, and the Stringer Institute was created with the hope of preventing sudden deaths in sports.

No NFL players have died of heatstroke since Stringer’s death, but here are college players who have died:

2018: Jordan McNair, University of Maryland: A 19-year-old, 325-pound sophomore offensive lineman, McNair was observed struggling during a May 29 conditioning test at the school, which included multiple 110-yard sprints. He was hospitalized that night and died June 14. The Jordan McNair Foundation announced he died of heatstroke.

2017: Tyler Heintz, Kent State: A coroner confirmed Heintz, 19, a freshman 275-pound offensive lineman, died of heatstroke after completing his second day of conditioning drills at Dix Stadium

2014: Marquese Meadow, Morgan State: According to the Baltimore Sun, he became disoriented after an Aug. 10 practice, was hospitalized, slipped into a coma, and died two weeks later. Cause of death was listed as heatstroke. The high temperature on Aug. 10 was 86 degrees.

2008: Chad Wiley, North Carolina A&T: A fifth-year senior, Wiley complained of dizziness at a voluntary workout on campus. He lost consciousness when he was being treated in the trainer’s room. According to the United Press International, the autopsy showed Wiley died of heatstroke complications, resulting from a sickle cell trait.

2001: Eraste Autin, Florida: An incoming freshman, Autin, a 250-pound fullback was expected to compete for a starting job. But according to the Associated Press, he died of complications from heatstroke after collapsing while jogging back to the locker room after a voluntary conditioning session.

Contributing: Cam Smith

 

 

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