Commentary

Football, heat and preventable deaths

When will we ever learn? Another series of unnecessary tragedies plagues the game

Originally Published: August 16, 2011
By Jeff MacGregor | ESPN.com

Isaiah Laurencin was 16 and lived in Florida.

Tyquan Brantley was 14 and lived in South Carolina.

Donteria Searcy was 16 and lived in Georgia.

Forrest Jones was 16 and lived in Georgia.

Somewhere in Georgia or Florida or South Carolina this week, in Arkansas or in Texas, somewhere in the middle of the night, a mother or a father is going to walk through a house to sit on the edge of an unmade bed. Someone's father will look down at a photograph or a notebook, or maybe someone's mother will wring an old T-shirt in her hands. There is no measure for what that mother or that father might feel.

But there are very precise metrics for how that mother or father came to feel that way.

At its normal core temperature, the human body can play football. At 99 degrees Fahrenheit or so, the body and the brain within can compose poetry or paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or run for president or meet and marry the love of its life. At its normal core temperature, the human body is capable of many things.

At a 100-degree core temperature, the body works to shed heat. The body feels moderate discomfort.

At around 101 degrees, the body is dissipating heat as fast as it can by perspiration, but the blood vessels nearest the skin begin to dilate as well. Thus, skin reddens and is hot to the touch. The pulse quickens. Blood pressure begins to drop. This is very uncomfortable. This is the beginning of heat exhaustion.

At 102 degrees, dizziness is common. As is nausea or breathlessness. Fainting. Headache. The skin feels dry. The normal mechanisms for carrying away core heat are no longer sufficient.

Above a core temperature of 103 degrees Fahrenheit: weakness, vomiting, headache. This is a medical emergency.

[+] Enlarge111 Degrees
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerThis summer's heat wave and football practice: a deadly combination.

At about 104 degrees: heat stroke. Confusion, dehydration. Seizure possible.

Above 105 degrees: delirium. If not treated immediately, internal organs will begin to fail.

Above 106 degrees: convulsions.

Above 107 degrees: coma.

Above 108 degrees: death.

We have lost four kids to football and summer heat the last three weeks. We lost a couple more to heat as a "contributory factor." We lost a coach, too. How frightened and confused they must have been as things fell away around them.

The stories are here and here and here and here.

The science is here and here and here and here.

That we still have an annual body count in high school football should be a national disgrace. Instead, it becomes an occasion for tepid eulogies and weak-kneed editorials by school administrators looking to blame the Fates. But it is not fate killing these kids every July and August. It is vanity and ambition and the American cult of football.

You want to save some lives? No high school football until September, especially in the South. No two-a-day practices. No pads above 90 degrees or 90 percent relative humidity.

We've known this for years. These deaths were completely preventable.

These were good kids.

[+] EnlargeFootball Practice
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyThe right idea: At a morning practice at Father Ryan High School in Nashville, a player gets a cold towel.

Or they were bad kids. Or just average American kids on their way to becoming something. They were good students or they were bad students or they were indifferent to school; they worked hard or shirked it or were strong in one thing and weak in another, just like the rest of us. They had things they liked, subjects and teachers, and things they didn't. Science. Geography, maybe. Math. Some days in English, they'd hear a line or two of poetry that went through them like a current, but most of the old words simply settled around them like dust.

They were polite or they were sullen or rude or angry, gentle or cruel or sweet. Funny. Quiet. Sad. Charming. Loud. Some days, all those. They had good skin or bad skin, good teeth or bad teeth. In some photographs, all were handsome; and in others, all were not. They liked pizza or fries or apples or cheeseburgers or ketchup on scrambled eggs. They were always hungry. Always sleepy.

They liked music. Movies. TV. Maybe they spent too much time on the phone. Too much time online. Too much gaming. They were all completely different, and every one the same. Each liked the way his mom smelled when she got dressed up and each liked the weight of a father's hand on his shoulder. Maybe they liked dogs, too, or birds or cats or girls or how it feels to wake up in your own room. Maybe they were still scared of the dark. Maybe they were falling in love. Maybe they liked to put their foreheads to the glass on those long team bus rides and see the world buzzing past and imagine themselves somewhere else. Someone else. Imagine their futures. Maybe they were embarrassed by the depth and the power of what they felt.

Maybe.

Because what can any one of us say for sure about a dead kid? About who he was, or who he longed to be?

Jeff MacGregor is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. You can e-mail him at jeff_macgregor@hotmail.com, or follow his Twitter.com feed @MacGregorESPN.

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