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Study reveals deadliest sports are Gridiron 1, Athletics 2

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Deadliest sport among young athletes found to be football, study reveals

By Oliver Renick
Bloomberg News
The Bulletin
June 22. 2011


NEW YORK — Researchers who analyzed 30 years of trauma-related sports deaths among youths found that football accounted for 57 percent of the fatalities — and that many would have been prevented if athletes with head injuries had been kept off the field.

The report, which reviewed information from a U.S. registry of 1,827 sudden deaths of young athletes from 1980 to 2009, found that 261, or 14 percent, were caused by blunt trauma. The study, published Monday in the Journal of Pediatrics, analyzed data on fatal injuries that occurred during 22 different sports.

Twelve percent of the 138 football deaths caused by head or neck injuries involved students who returned to the game after a concussion, researchers said. In some of these “second-impact syndrome” deaths, athletes were cleared for play despite symptoms from a previous head injury. More education is needed for coaches, trainers, parents and students on the consequences of repeat head blows, the researchers said in the report.

“Second-impact syndrome is avoidable,” said study author Dr. Barry Maron of the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, a cardiovascular education and research center. “It’s obviously a coaching and medical issue to avoid this, independent of the equipment used, so football players do not return prematurely to play.”

Symptoms of concussion include headache, dizziness, disorientation, memory loss and seizures, according to the study.

The deaths analyzed in the report occurred among those younger than 21 and involved scholastic sports teams as well as those in youth sports leagues not affiliated with schools. All the second-impact football deaths occurred among high school athletes, according to the report.

Increased awareness of second-impact syndrome among football players has led 21 states to enact laws that pull student athletes from a game after a head injury and set procedures for allowing them to safely return, according to Gail Hayes, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue signed into law one such bill on June 16. The New York state legislature approved a similar bill on June 14.

More than 90 percent of the football deaths analyzed came from head and neck blows that led to subdural hematoma, the accumulation of blood within the cranium shutting off vital functions, Maron said. Ten of the deaths were the result of helmet-to-helmet blows, the study found.

Offensive running back was the single most deadly position in football, with 33 deaths in 30 years. Sixty-nine deaths occurred among defensive players, according to the report.

“Some of the things we talk to the students about are making them aware of signs and symptoms that are typical of concussions,” said Todd Nelson, Director of Safety and Risk Management at New York State Public High School Athletic Association. The group worked with Kemp Hannon, a New York state senator, on the bill.

“It’s not the old days where you had to shake it off and get back into the game,” Nelson said.

Among the 22 sports analyzed, track and field was the second-most deadly sport with 27 fatalities, primarily from pole vaulters falling outside the padded landing area, according to the report. Batted balls were the primary reasons for 16 trauma-related deaths in baseball. Boxing claimed 12 lives.

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