When it comes to culture, football is as American as apple pie. From tailgating parties to Sunday Night gatherings, it’s clear Americans are enamored by this competitive sport. This past September, however, an incident happened which has many questioning football’s place in the high school realm.
On September 28, 16-year-old Dylan Thompson was playing linebacker for the Pike County High School football team.
The game was like any other, with players barreling at each other in an attempt to block the opposing team’s goals. However, during the third quarter, things took a turn for the worse.
Around this time, Thompson came off the field complaining that his leg was feeling weird. Within seven minutes, he became incoherent, losing consciousness on the side of the field.
The unconscious teen was rushed to the hospital where he died two days later.
During Thompson’s hospitalization, doctors conducted at least 40 hours of surgery, medical testing, and life-saving procedures. Unfortunately, it was too late. According to the coroner’s report, Thompson’s official cause of death was a cardiac arrest stemming from a head injury.
The school recently released footage of Thompsons’s last game; however, the video raises more questions than answers.
Considering the timing of the event, the video doesn’t show any catastrophic or traumatic injuries. In fact, Pike County School Superintendent Michael Duncan told CNN:
“The question coming from everyone is when did it happen.”
“We understand. We just don’t know.”
While we’re unable to pinpoint the exact moment of Thompson’s injury, doctors have described it as an anomaly “requiring the perfect amount of pressure on the perfect spot at the perfect angle.”
For years, medical professionals have been calling on sports officials to try and mitigate the damage caused by contact sports. Lewis Margolis, a pediatrician and epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina, told ABC News:
“High school football players have, by far, the highest risk of concussion of any sport.”
“In football, the rate of concussion is 60 percent higher than in the second-ranking sport, lacrosse.”
Individuals who get numerous concussions are at a risk of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), often observed in the posthumous examination of professional athletes.
CTE is a degenerative brain disorder, with symptoms including memory loss, loss of impulse control, impaired judgment, aggression, depression, and more.
Recognizing the importance of football in American culture, some experts advise focusing on how to make the sport safer, as opposed to banning it completely. The logical step is ensuring protective gear is worn— but cases like Thompson’s demonstrate that the equipment is simply not 100% effective.
In fact, The Rothman Institute quotes a scientific study, which states:
“Football helmets on average only reduce the risk of traumatic brain injury by approximately 20%.”
Ideally, as increasing attention is brought to the problem, improved measures of protection will be developed. However, other experts have noted, protective gear is simply incapable of stopping a brain from rattling in the skull. When it comes to these types of injuries, we can only do so much.
Even in the best-case scenario, these future developments can never bring back Dylan Thompson— a kind-hearted 16-year-old described as the ‘heart and soul’ of his team’s defense.
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