10 July 1998

American Football's High School Death Toll

High school American football claimed the lives of six young players last year, according to a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study. Eight additional fatalities were seemingly connected with the game, but might well have resulted from any vigorous activity.

"Five of the six injury deaths resulted from damage to the brain, while the other came from a blow to the chest that caused the boy's heart to stop," says Frederick Mueller, professor and chair of physical education, exercise and sport science. "Seven of the indirect deaths were heart-related, and one was from heat-stroke."

The study also revealed a catalogue of serious injuries, including seven cases of permanent paralysis from neck injuries among high school students. Another seven were shown to have suffered permanently disabling head injuries.

"Players need to be reminded often, especially by coaches, that the head has no place in football," says Mueller. "No player should make first contact with his head when blocking and tackling. That's against the rules, but more importantly, it's dangerous."

Horrifying as they may seem, the statistics represent a significant drop in deaths directly attributed to American football - probably as a result of 1976 rule changes that prohibited using the head as the first point of contact. In 1968, for example, 36 young men died after injuries in practices or games.