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Experts: Football Death Reports Aren’t Valid Epidemiology

The University of North Carolina’s self-published football casualty statistics are deemed ‘unverified’ and ‘unreliable’ while its claim of zero deaths in 1990 is debunked by two case finds

By Matt Chaney

Posted Monday, January 12, 2015

Copyright ©2015 by Matthew L. Chaney

When sportswriters report 17 football players died in America during 2013, and medical writers and researchers cite the same figure, everyone’s common information source is the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research (NCCSIR) at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

The annual UNC numbers on football fatalities have been quoted worldwide since the 1970s and include statistical framework back to 1931, the year football organizations assumed control of annual recording. Reports are posted at the NCCSIR website and everyone presumes the data meet epidemiological standards for charting mortality risk in American football.

But the numbers do not qualify as epidemiological research, not remotely, say two experts who have monitored faults and recurring issues in UNC postings for three years.

“There is no independent verification of the data,” said Don Comrie, the CEO of PanMedix, a New York company that designs statistical analysis protocols for medical and pharmaceutical research. “When we look at the UNC data, there is no reliability.”

Epidemiologist Charles E. Yesalis says NCCSIR reports fail to pass muster for his discipline. Yesalis, author of epidemiological studies, journal articles and books on sports, identifies an historical misstep by UNC workers who lack medical and scientific credentials—their reliance on limited news content for casualty assessment of millions of football players, the vast majority being juveniles.

“When you’re dealing with (information) as what might get reported in the news, versus trying to identify accurately what’s reported in emergency rooms, or hospital records, that’s problematic,” said Yesalis, professor emeritus of public health for Penn State University, with his doctorate of science from Johns Hopkins University in 1975.

“It’s tough, it really is,” Yesalis said, empathizing with the football academics at UNC. “You’re trying to glue this all together, which is what it appears they’re doing. And they’re not the first people to do this on a variety of disease states, ER conditions, injuries and all that.”

Yesalis and Comrie have followed my email updates and blog critiques of UNC football publications since 2011, when I began collecting news reports of catastrophic player casualties found online.

For fatalities, I’ve located more than 1,400 deaths among active football players from 1960 to 2014, cases both confirmed and still suspect for links to the sport. And when comparing to the approximate 1,050 deaths UNC logs in the timeframe, methodological holes emerge for the NCCSIR.

Center officials refuse to answer my inquiries but an overriding fact is clear: more people die from football than the game-funded “studies” convey to the public.

Faults beset six decades of UNC football data, with inconsistent classifications and case omissions exposed by contemporary electronic search. Missing are deaths caused by football collision, defined as “direct” fatalities of the sport, along with likely hundreds of “indirect” or game-related fatalities—particularly for cardiac arrest, its various mechanisms that can include delayed attack from previous chest blows, according to a recent study.

Casualties omitted from 2011 UNC statistics, for example, include 13-year-old Kansas school player Alec Mounkes, who died of blood clots following an ankle injury. Kishon Cooper, 8, collapsed and died in Florida while training at home for “youth league” football. Two young men succumbed, Marcellis Williamson and Andy Collins, of blood clots and cardiac arrest, respectively, as free-agent hopefuls for professional football.

During 2012, Pennsylvania semipro player Willie Mims collapsed at football practice and later died, as did prep player Temoc Castellanos, 15, stricken during off-season conditioning for his school team.

An aspiring player in Texas, 15-year-old Jacob Gatlin, collided heads with another on a football field at school. The boys were participating in a “7-on-7” passing drill without helmets during “athletics class” directed by coaches, school officials told media, and Gatlin suffered a skull fracture and fatal brain hemorrhaging.

None of these deaths is recorded by UNC.

Several high-school players died of cardiac arrest in 2012, during exercise and restive state like sleep, including: Anthony Vaeao, California; Austin Lempera, Illinois; Cody Stephens, Texas, David Widzinski, Michigan; and Tyler Miller, New York. Such cases require specialized postmortem applications for diagnosis and determining a possible link to sport, according to a host of experts worldwide.

None of these deaths is included in UNC “research.” Many more of possible football ties since 1960, found online, require proper scientific evaluation.

Errors likewise dog UNC’s recorded cases, such as the 2010 death logged in the wrong year. Youth player Quadaar White, 15, died of a broken neck in Philadelphia on Aug. 31, 2010, but the NCCSIR recorded his case for 2011.

I repeatedly emailed then-center director Frederick Mueller. Instead of correcting his mistake, Mueller—a lifelong football man with a PhD in education who goes by “Dr. Mueller”—demanded that I cease contacting him. Mueller has since retired as an exercise professor, after co-authoring football surveys at UNC from the 1970s to 2012.

The error on Quadaar White remains standing in NCCSIR reports at the website.

1990 Collision Deaths, Retrieved Online, Nullify Old UNC Claim

Now a substantial mistake has emerged involving Mueller, his inaccurate declaration publicized for three decades from Chapel Hill, such as it reads here, typos intact, on Page 1 of the UNC report for 2013 football deaths:

The 1990 report was historic in that it was the first year since the beginning of the research, 1931, that there was not a direct fatality in football at any level of play.(Mueller & Schindler 1991)  This clearly illustrates that data collection and analysis is important and plays a major role in prevention.

Wrong, at least on the first point.

Minimally two direct football deaths occurred during 1990, both of violent “sandlot” incidents, according to reports I recently retrieved from NewsBank database.

One case occurred merely 80 miles from Chapel Hill: Jamarl Gentry, 17, died on Nov. 7, 1990, of a broken neck suffered in a pickup tackle game at Winston-Salem, reported The Greensboro News & Record.

The second 1990 football death retrieved from NewsBank is Christopher Mock, 19, a college student from Bluffton, Ind. Mock died on Dec. 1 of a brain injury suffered in sandlot tackle football, reported The Fort Wayne News-Sentinel.

During December I forwarded these cases to Mueller, NCCSIR medical director Dr. Robert Cantu in Boston, and other officials like Kristen Krucera, PhD, the athletic trainer who’s replaced Mueller as center director. I requested their comments, repeatedly.

Only one person replied, Mueller, by email: “I told you to take me off of your mailing list,” he griped.

Modern Emergency Care Dramatically Cuts Football Deaths Since 1960s

NCCSIR officials argue that their dubious football statistics and recommendations like Heads Up “safe contact,” the latest version of stale “head up” theory, have reduced player deaths by as much as two-thirds since the 1960s.

Historical news shows no such evidence. Rather, the major reason for fewer reported football fatalities was faster, better medical care that kept seriously injured players alive, with an assist from modern helmets.

Most football fatalities in the 1960s were connected to inadequate medical care, based on news reports. Players died of brain bleeding, spinal fracture, chest impact, ruptured spleen, lacerated kidney, blood clotting, heat stroke, cardiac arrest and more maladies that became better managed in America by end of the Vietnam War.

“By the early 1970s, many influential members of medical society (in the United States) believed that lessons learned on the battlefields in Korea and Vietnam in terms of triage, rapid transport of trauma patients to definitive care centers, and standardization of pre-hospital and in-hospital care could be applied effectively to civilian patients,” recounts a Canadian medical review.

The 1970s advancement of emergency medicine in America—led by widespread establishment of EMTs, modular ambulances, life flights, emergency rooms and trauma surgery—saved countless athletes who would have died previously without it.

The steel head-and-neck brace or “halo cast,” breakthrough technology available nationwide by 1973, stabilized vertebral fractures that previously killed people. Numerous tragedies were averted in football and all walks of life, with immobilization techniques for spinal casualties and treatment like the halo brace.

Even Mueller admits emergency response has cut football deaths from brain injuries, compared to a half-century ago. “The line is going down with fatalities. I think that’s related to kids getting better medical care on the field,” Mueller told HealthDay.com, after reviewing news reports of two-dozen players who survived catastrophic brain bleeds in 2011. “They’re not dying, but they’re having permanent brain damage.”

Left unsaid? I had forwarded Mueller those cases, or he probably would’ve missed most.

UNC Changes in Death Definitions Trim Football Numbers Since 1960s

Factors beyond emergency care and improved helmets also have reduced football deaths in UNC records since 1960. Based on available information, numbers have been shaved as much as one-fifth since 1960 just by altering definitions to qualify game fatalities.

Background begins in 1931, when the American Football Coaches Association hired Floyd R. Eastwood, a college professor with a PhD in education, to record yearly football casualties—formerly the task of media entities like The Associated Press. News accounts describe Eastwood’s method for collecting cases and defining types of football death.

“Dr. Eastwood” analyzed news reports of deaths among football players for 35 years, working for both the coaches association and the NCAA, groups which continue to fund the NCCSIR today. Relying heavily on the NCAA’s “clipping service” of major newspaper and wire-service articles, Eastwood gathered stories of casualties and looked for football causes or possible links, sometimes basing a case decision on news content alone.

Eastwood had to track national football casualties while grounded on campuses where he taught PE pedagogy and gym classes. Limited in information access and funding, he tried to assimilate medical protocol despite a personal résumé far short in education and training for the mission.

Eastwood followed up many football incidents he learned of, making phone calls and mailing information forms to witnesses and authorities. But their responses likely varied in substance and it was difficult and costly to obtain medical files and death certificates from across the country. Moreover, Eastwood surely understood that official information was frequently tainted by simple incompetence and/or football allegiance among local authorities.

“Keep in mind…,” intoned Comrie, who has compiled football casualty data, “many doctors in many parts of the country don’t want to blame football. So on those death certificates, is that information reliable? I don’t know. We don’t have a clue.”

Most significantly, Eastwood defined and qualified several types of football death differently than his present-day successors at UNC.

For example, Eastwood believed that football exertion and impacts could trigger congenital brain bleeds in players, caused by “AVM” and Chiari arterial malformations since birth. Medical opinion was divided, but many doctors determined that football spurred these cerebral vessel ruptures of natural origin, and Eastwood embraced the stance.

UNC researchers dismiss these incidents today, meanwhile, like the 2010 death of college player Ben Bundy, killed by his genetic brain-artery malformation that launched a blood clot during a team workout. Bundy wasn’t counted in the annual NCCSIR report.

Eastwood included meningitis fatalities among players and field deaths of referees for his 1960s football statistics. Neither type of incident figures into current UNC data.

Eastwood counted players dead of blood clots originating from leg injuries, classifying them as indirect fatalities of the game. In recent decades, however, UNC publications include only an occasional death via non-cerebral blood clots; many additional cases are omitted without explanation, like Mounkes, the aforementioned schoolboy, and Ben Jordan, 16, a South Carolina prep player dead of a pulmonary embolism in 2012 after he was hospitalized for blood clots during successive football seasons.

Altogether, the types of deaths counted by Eastwood but not counted by UNC comprise as much as 20 percent of the 350 football fatalities from the 1960s that I’ve collected.

And the “sandlot” classification has become the biggest area of NCCSIR shell games that produce smaller numbers, over time, and inspire the rhetorical mirage of “safer” football today.

UNC Qualifies Few ‘Sandlot’ Fatalities for Football Statistics Since 1980s

Erstwhile PE professor Floyd Eastwood held a broad view of what constituted a “sandlot” death, qualifying any person who died from injuries suffered while playing any type of football: organized or informal; tackle or “touch”; games in vacant lots, flag leagues and PE classes; and even passing and catching during school recess. In 1962, for example, Eastwood counted a young father who died of striking a telephone pole during a backyard touch game with family as one of the professor’s 19 direct football fatalities that year.

Eastwood also logged indirect or game-related sandlot deaths, numerous cases in his 1960s data, for causes such as cardiac arrest and heat stroke.

Thus far, NCCSIR officials decline to provide me with the names and locations for football deaths in their multi-decade collections. They decline to address inconsistencies in data classifications back to Eastwood’s tenure. They do not offer, or possess, a single peer-validated document incorporating detailed cases, formal literature review and a complete research method that identifies limitations.

UNC transparency isn’t needed, however, to deduce that Mueller et al. have basically counted only “youth league” players for sandlot fatalities since 1986, based on NCCSIR postings, cases found online, and public statements of Mueller and colleagues.

UNC no longer counts fatalities of flag football, “touch” games, PE classes, “athletics classes,” recess periods, and intramural competition at colleges; deaths from tackle sandlot games are no longer included—yet all types still load those numbers from the 1960s and ’70s.

It would seem “sandlot” deaths were disappearing by the 1980s, according to football-funded researchers. Indeed, UNC statistics from 1986 to 1998 do not list any direct fatalities in the category.

On the contrary, numerous deaths of impacts occurred in the period that Eastwood would’ve counted for sandlot classification, including the following cases I’ve located:

1986: Ervin Kolk, 27, died of “being kicked in the head during a touch football game” at Tukwila, Wash., reported The Seattle Times.

1987: Joshua Arruda, 12, died of “injuries he received when he fell and hit his head on a rock during a tag football game at school,” reported The Daily News of Los Angeles.

1988: An adult male, unidentified, died of “a severed aorta after taking a blow to the chest” in touch football at North Conway, N.H., reported The Sporting News.

1989: Walter Jackson, 27, died “as a result of the head injury he suffered” in touch football, reported The Buffalo News.

1990: Jamarl Gentry, 17 (aforementioned case), died of a broken neck sustained in pickup tackle football at Winston-Salem, N.C., reported The Greensboro News & Record.

1990: Christopher Mock, 19, (aforementioned case), died of head injuries sustained in pickup tackle football in Indiana, reported The Fort Wayne News-Sentinel.

1991: Timmy Hysinger, 29, died “of a head injury he suffered… playing touch football in the street” at Mauldin, S.C., reported The State newspaper.

1994: Chris Hart, 18, dead “from head injuries suffered in a flag football game” at Texas A&M University, reported The Houston Chronicle.

1996: Terry Crayton, 16, died after “being knocked unconscious in a gym-class collision… playing a game called ‘speedball,’ a combination of soccer and football” at a Milwaukee school, reported The La Crosse Tribune.

1996: Jason Boone, 19, died of “receiving a severe head injury… in a touch football game” at Maryville, Tenn., reported The Knoxville News-Sentinel.

1996: Derek McMillen-Morgan, 16, died of “massive spinal injuries (sustained) when tackled” during a pickup game at Canton, Ohio, reported The Akron Beacon Journal.

The following deaths also are omitted from UNC statistics that log zero “sandlot” collision fatalities in said years:

2000: Maurice Doty, 16, “died of cardiac arrhythmia due to blunt force impact of the chest” in a pickup tackle game at Dayton, Ohio, reported The Daily News.

2005: Kenny Luong, 19, “died from (head) injuries received during a UC Irvine fraternity football game,” reported The Orange County Register.

2005: Steve Lynes, 19, “died of (head) injuries suffered during a pickup football game” at Brigham Young University, reported The Associated Press.

2005: Robert Meza, 24, died of a brain injury sustained in flag football at Taylor, Mich., reported The Detroit News.

2006: Logan Honsinger, 10, “died after his diaphragm was ruptured, an injury authorities… suspect he received during practice” for his youth-league team at Hemlock, Mich., reported The Associated Press.

2006: Andre Thibault, 12, “died from injuries suffered… when he tripped and fell into a pole while playing football” at Halstead, Kan., reported The Kansas City Star.

2008: John Buzzard, 15, “died of heart and brain-related conditions” sustained “during a touch-tackle football game” at Brooklyn, N.Y., reported The Staten Island Advance.

2008: Coty Bluford, 14, died of injury sustained when he knocked “heads with another boy” in football play during PE class at school in Lenoir City, Tenn., reported The Associated Press.

2008: Dominique Edwards, 19, died of a ruptured kidney sustained “when he dove for a football… and struck his left side” in a pickup game at Macon, Ga., reported The Telegraph.

2008: A boy, unidentified, 11, died “after being struck in the throat during a recess game” at school in Lake Oswego, Ore., reported The Oregonian.

2012: Jacob Gatlin, 15 (aforementioned case), died of skull fracture and brain hemorrhaging after a collision during a 7-on-7 passing session in school “athletics class” at Hawkins, Texas, reported The Longview News-Herald.

2012: Alex Lott, 17, died of a neck fracture “received playing touch football” at Richton, Miss., reported The Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

Again, these cases require examination by accredited authorities for qualification in valid football research, but this news batch demonstrates the stark, unannounced change between 1960s record-keeping and modern death data from UNC.

“We hear, ‘Oh, football’s become safer,’ ” Comrie said. “I don’t know if it’s become safer. I’m hearing this but I don’t know. Because no one’s willing to sift through the (UNC) data, we don’t know how many kids died or what they died of. We don’t know how many football deaths were purely preventable.”

Comrie, who has consulted for the U.S. Air Force and NFLPA regarding brain injuries and assessment, sees professional incompetence for NCCSIR publications that claim to reduce football mortality rates.

“It’s certainly uninformed,” he said. “Science is about asking questions. If you have incomplete or inaccurate data, you’re probably asking the wrong questions. The lack of information is bad for everybody, including the NFL, the NCAA and the national high schools.

“Reliable data is the key to making strong recommendations about what to do, but decisions are being made in football based on nothing,” Comrie said. “Everyone should know the data is just crap, period.”

Like Eastwood in the past, UNC researchers erroneously announce football deaths in absolute numbers, never mind that their primary means of incident details–news content–remains inadequate. Any accuracy would be a lucky guess and unverifiable anyway.

The total for a given year “could be stone-cold accurate or it could be off by a million miles,” said Yesalis, the epidemiologist. “It’s all based on how you count the population at risk, football players. It’s how you count the death events, how you acquire information, with bias for relying on news reports. Even of a death, there could be an injury where the kid is taken from the field and dies maybe three weeks later. Well, how confident can you be that will be reported (in news)?

“Basically going by news media alone? No epidemiologist would say that’s ideal.”

Comrie believes enough information exists empirically to resolve deficiencies through collaborations among investigators like me, the UNC academics, and appropriate authorities from medicine and science. Amassing death certificates would be a scientific start.

Vital data on football mortality risk “probably exist somewhere, in some form,” Comrie said, but politics stymie progress. “They (game officials) have just made it as difficult to get and to analyze as they possibly can because they want no change in the status quo. I have my beef in all this, because I can’t make reasoned decisions because the data’s unreliable. And the scientific community just goes along.

“We’ve been operating in a world where no one’s ever checked to see if the (football) data are real or not,” Comrie said. “They publicize it, of course, under UNC, but what was their research method? How did they do it? But since the method, regardless, produced exactly what the media wanted to hear and the parents wanted to hear, no one’s ever questioned it.”

Modern Myth of Safer Football, Research Heroes and Saving Lives

In 1998, the United States Sports Academy gave Fred Mueller an award for “lasting contributions to the growth and development of sports medicine through practice or scholarship.”

A UNC-Chapel Hill press release heralded the university’s “Life-Saving Dr. Mueller,” stating:

Statistics he compiled, first with Dr. Carl Blyth, also of UNC-CH, on football injuries and deaths helped lead to rule changes and improved coaching credited with saving dozens of lives a year in the United States.

Comrie scoffs in New York, pondering what’s really happened around the so-called National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research—which has no street address in Chapel Hill, no facility on campus, nothing of validated research.

It’s all a façade fronted by Mueller types and feel-good statistics, Comrie alleges, designed to lead naïve kids and parents along the Yellow Brick Road to Safer Football.

“It’s the mythology being confused for reality,” he surmised. “And the way to promote mythology is to make sure there are no hard facts or evidence.

“So we go through the curtains and we find out the great, mysterious Oz is not who he appears to be.”

Matt Chaney is a writer, editor, teacher and restaurant cook in Missouri, USA. Chaney’s 2001 MA thesis at the University of Central Missouri involved electronic search for thousands of news reports on performance-enhancing drugs in American football, a project inspired by his experience of injecting testosterone as a college player in 1982 (Southeast Missouri State). Email him at mattchaney@fourwallspublishing.com. For more information, including about Chaney’s 2009 book Spiral of Denial: Muscle Doping in American Football, visit the homepage at www.fourwallspublishing.com.

Cardiac Death Foils Medical Tracking in Football, All Sports

Risk of Sudden Death Understated in Football, Say Experts

Information Barriers, Autopsy Limits Promote Short Data

Sample 31 Player Cases Led by Cardiac Deaths, 2014 To-Date

By Matt Chaney

Posted Friday, October 24, 2014

As concern spikes again for deadly injuries in American football, field collisions have killed from two to five teenagers thus far in 2014, pending further analysis, and an exact number may remain in question.

Actual football mortality constitutes a much bigger picture, meanwhile, through incalculable player deaths that are indirectly related to the game.

Minimally two dozen American football players have succumbed in sudden death this year. Most of the cases are perplexing, challenging for accurate diagnosis and impractical for linking to football, according to contemporary studies and authorities.

Record-keeping is stifled, resulting in significant under-reporting of deaths overall in American sport, especially for cardiac disease, say experts.

For American football, sudden cardiac death (SCD) has been marginally recorded over some 120 years of casualty reporting−while likely being the leading cause of mortality in the game.

And a particular, robust SCD class has been practically excluded, left undocumented: Those active football players who die without  physical exertion, in daily life outside game activities.

Actually, say experts, an athlete’s restful or normal state can combine with previous exertion to induce cardiac arrest in some variations.

“Yes…,” affirms Dr. Kimberly G. Harmon, of the University of Washington, a leading researcher in sudden death among athletes, “exercise can cause changes in the heart in some conditions that may make SCD more likely either at rest or at death.”

This year at least seven American football players have died during sleep and minimally five have collapsed at home, on campus, or while shopping. See their cases amid the 2014 summaries below, hyper-linked to news reports.

The dozen dead were schoolboys and collegiate players who participated regularly in training sessions and games. Each was hours or days removed from his last athletic exertion.

Nine more players have collapsed during football-specific activities, such as games and practices, then died.

Additional cases likely have occurred this year, sudden deaths of active football players, but information is hindered, leading to skewed recording and analysis−and weak prevention.

Privacy law is one limitation but the research field relies too heavily on inconsistent news media, which traditionally generate the lot of football’s catastrophic casualties to become recorded. Thus final statistics are short regarding millions of players, most prepubescent.

“Current methods of data collection underestimate the risk of SCD,” conclude Harmon et al., in the group’s landmark 2011 research on collegiate sports. “Accurate assessment of SCD incidence is necessary to shape appropriate health policy decisions and develop effective strategies for prevention.”

“Deaths in high school athletes may be even less likely to be identified by media reports as opposed to higher-profile NCAA athletes,” the researchers surmise in their article for Journal of The American Heart Association.

Faulty U.S. Death Investigations Impact Medical Data on Sports

Proper postmortem exam is problematic for American SCD casualties in general, not only athletes. America’s current death-investigation system struggles with “widespread dysfunction,” as documented by government and media reviews in the past decade.

Only about 9 percent of all deaths are autopsied in this country, and cardiac disease can elude identification and diagnosis even under pathology exam.

“The coroner-medical examiner system in the United States is highly variable in quality,” says Harmon, the MD and professor of sports medicine and family medicine at UW, via email. “Coroners are often elected or appointed officials with their only requirement being graduation from high school.”

“In many cases (of sport SCD) forensic pathologists are not performing the autopsies and most of the time cardiac pathologists are not involved.”

The basic mission of coroner and ME offices nationwide is to rule natural causes or foul play in a death, “and not necessarily the actual pathology,” notes Harmon.

Verifying a possible sport link is impractical, typically impossible.

“Often the training of the pathologist is limited and budgets to run (microscopic) histology−which is critical in making a correct (SCD) diagnosis−are limited,” notes Harmon, who encounters the issues in her review of college cases.

“Often experts will come to different conclusions as to etiology or not be able to make a definitive call on cause of death.”

Common thread is lack of evidence and sound conclusion, for SCD incidents in football players, like 2013 prep fatalities reported in Michigan and North Carolina. For the latter case, The Fayetteville Observer editorial board criticized state pathologists and procedures.

“When young football player Evan Raines died last year during practice at Seventy First High School, his family had to wait more than a year to find out why,” the newspaper editorialized on Oct. 5, continuing:

“But they weren’t singled out for what appears to be a glacial work pace at the N.C. Medical Examiner’s Office. … And they weren’t singled out, either, for an autopsy report that was vague and incomplete. That, we have learned, is the prevailing condition, too.”

In Missouri, a local coroner acknowledges knowing little but to declare cardiac arrest as cause in the recent death of 22-year-old international student Kazadi Mutombo. The ruling was based on hearsay that the fit and athletic young man collapsed in workout clothes after visiting the YMCA in Joplin.

Autopsy proved fruitless; the coroner’s consultant pathologist detected negligible evidence of harm to Mutombo’s heart, which “appeared to be in good shape.”

“There’s just certain things you don’t find out from autopsies, and you’ll never know,” says Newton County coroner Mark Bridges.

Accurate Death Analysis Crucial to Surviving Family Members

Researchers estimate almost a third of SCD cases in athletes under age 35 produce “negative autopsy” results for the different forms. State-of-the-art, costlier analysis is needed.

“Because electrical and other (cardiac) conditions will not be detected, it is not unusual for a routine autopsy to conclude that the cause of death was indeterminate,” states a Michigan study.

“In such cases, heritable conditions such as cardiac ion-channel disorders are suspect and genetic analysis could help to elucidate the cause of death and prevent future deaths in families at risk.”

The call is universal among experts, to overhaul SCD tracking in sports such as American football, foremost for preventing congenital health calamities among athletes and their families.

Genetically inherited cardiac conditions include most cardiomyopathies, like “enlarged heart” or HCM, and the “channelopathies,” heartbeat malfunctions caused by the organ’s electrical current, becoming increasingly detectable in advanced assays.

“In the past decade, the emergence of the channelopathies, in particular long QT syndrome and catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia, has transformed the importance” of advanced analysis, observes Dr. Mary N. Sheppard, of the Department of Histopathology at Royal Brompton Hospital in London.

“Sudden unexpected death during exercise particularly can, in many families, bring to their attention a hitherto unsuspected cardiac condition which is inherited and may be diagnosed by screening first-degree family members,” Sheppard writes for her 2012 analysis published in British Journal of Sports Medicine.

“Missed diagnoses (or) wrong diagnosis can have catastrophic consequences for families in which other members are at risk of sudden death because they carry the defective gene for that condition.”

31 Death Cases Among Football Players, 2014 To-Date

This collection of death cases among active American football players in 2014 is a sampling of public reports, online news. This analysis does not purport to present any  accurate number or estimation of deaths caused or related to football activities.

See 31 annotated cases below, including fatal casualties of brain bleeding, cardiac disease, heatstroke, and pulmonary embolism, culled from reports in Google banks since January.

Twenty-seven teenagers are among this sample 31 deaths, which are comprised of 1 youth football player, 2 middle-school students, 19 high-school players, 8 collegiate players, and 1 adult in flag football. Case capsules are wholly constructed of news content.

The information requires medically specialized followup, vetting by a multi-disciplinary team that would include accredited epidemiologists and a cardiac histopathologist, among experts, for scientific qualification beyond raw data, which is news content.

No such research team has yet been funded and assembled for American football.

Additional deaths among active football players appear online: suicides, drug overdoses, and more unexpected casualty.

Further deaths reported around the sport, including of coaches and referees, also do not appear below.

Cases are collected and filed by Matt Chaney, MA, at email: mattchaney@fourwallspublishing.com.

My condolences to family and friends of every deceased athlete.

Oct. 17:  Jamond Salley, 16, Virginia, a 5-10, 203-pound lineman for Park View High School in South Hill, complained of a headache after contact during a game. Salley collapsed on the sideline of a brain bleed and was pronounced dead at hospital. Cause of death was blunt force trauma, according to the medical examiner’s office. Sources: WTVR-TV and SoVaNow.com.

Oct. 12:  Trey Taulton, 18, Texas, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound receiver for Mesquite Horn High School, died during sleep of “natural causes,” reports The Mesquite News.

Oct. 1:  Tom Cutinella, 16, New York, a linebacker and offensive guard for Shoreham-Wading River High School, sustained a brain bleed during a game of contact, say police. Cutinella died later at hospital and no autopsy results were available at time of this posting. Source: WFAN-TV.

Sept. 29:  Isaiah Langston, 17, North Carolina, a lineman for Rolesville High School, collapsed during a game on Sept. 26 and died three days later at hospital. A family member says cause of death was linked to a blood clot at the brain, reports WTVD-TV.

Sept. 28:  Andrew Madrid, 14, Texas, a football player for Marfa High School, collapsed while playing soccer with friends at the school on this Sunday. He died later at hospital. Sources: Big Bend Sentinel and KWES-TV.

Sept. 28:  Demario Harris Jr., 17, Alabama, a cornerback for Charles Henderson High School, collapsed of a brain bleed after making a tackle during a game on Sept. 26. Harris died two days later at hospital of a brain hemorrhage caused by contact during the game, says his father. Sources: People, WSFA-TV, and Dothan Eagle.

Sept. 28:  Jeremiah Pierce, 12, New Jersey, a youth player in Penns Grove Midget Football, collapsed during practice on Sept. 23 and died five days later at hospital. Results of any postmortem examination were not available at time of this posting. Sources: New York Daily News and South Jersey Times.

Sept. 1:  Miles Kirkland-Thomas, 16, New York, a 6-2, 295-pound lineman for Curtis High School, collapsed during football practice and was pronounced dead at hospital. Cause of death was hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or HCM, and obesity contributed, according to the medical examiner’s office. Source: Staten Island Advance.

Aug. 25:  Walker Wilbanks, 17, Mississippi, a lineman for Jackson Preparatory School, collapsed during a game on Aug. 22. He died three days later at hospital of over-hydration, or hyponatremia, according to Dr. Joe Pressler. Source: Clarion Ledger.

Aug. 24:  Marquese Meadow, 18, Maryland, a 6-2, 300-pound lineman for Morgan State University, collapsed at football practice on Aug. 10. He died two weeks later at hospital of heatstroke, according to the medical examiner’s office. Sources: Baltimore Sun and Washington Post.

Aug. 20:  Jason Bitsko, 21, Ohio, a 6-4, 280-pound offensive lineman for Kent State University, died during sleep at home. Final autopsy results are pending for public release. Sources: The Associated Press and WOIO-TV.

Aug. 16:  Will Wheeler, 17, Massachusetts, a 5-11, 165-pound defensive back for Central Catholic High School, died during sleep at home. Autopsy is planned, reportedly, but no results are yet available online. Source: Eagle Tribune.

Aug. 13:  William Shogran Jr., 14, Florida, a lineman for Sebastian River High School, collapsed at football practice then died at hospital. Heat illness possibly contributed, according to reports. Further information was unavailable at time of this posting. Sources: New York Daily News and WPTV-TV.

Aug. 11:  Zyrees Oliver, 17, Georgia, an offensive lineman for Douglas County High School, collapsed during football practice on Aug. 5. He six days later at hospital of over-hydration, say doctors. Further pathology results are pending but currently unavailable online. Sources: Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Weather Channel.

Aug. 10:  Dan Malakoski, 36, Pennsylvania, collapsed while playing flag football and died at hospital, reportedly of cardiac arrest. Source: NewsItem.com.

Aug. 6:  Noah Cornuet, 16, Pennsylvania, a 6-2, 270-pound lineman for Burrell High School, collapsed at football practice then died at hospital. Reportedly, a non-cancerous heart tumor caused the death. Further information is unavailable online. Sources: WTAE-TV and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

July 21:  Shawn Afryl, 22, Minnesota, a 6-3, 310-pound offensive lineman for Winona State University, collapsed during a conditioning workout and died at hospital. Cardiac arrest reportedly caused the death. Sources: Chicago Tribune and Minneapolis Star Tribune.

June 30:  Sean Tillotson, 17, Vermont, a running back and tight end for Oxbow Union High School, died of a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot lodged in lung tissue, during an airport layover in Denver, Colorado. Tillotson was recovering from a second surgery on a knee that was injured the previous football season. Source: Valley News.

June 30:  Gage Meeks, 11, Louisiana, who was preparing to play football for Calhoun Middle School, became stricken at home and died at hospital. A doctor said cardiac arrest caused the death. Sources: KNOE-TV and Monroe News-Star.

May 21:  An unidentified boy, 14, New Jersey, collapsed while throwing a football during PE class and died at hospital. The incident occurred at Thomas E. Harrington Middle School. Source: Philadelphia Inquirer.

May 13:  MarQuavious Payne, 17, Georgia, a 5-11, 185-pound linebacker for Cedar Shoals High School, died during sleep at home. Pathology results are unavailable online. Source: Athens Banner-Herald.

April 27:  James Michael Creamer Jr., 15, New York, a lineman for St. Peter’s Boys High School, died in sleep at his home.  An allergic reaction or choking may have contributed to the death, say family members. Source: Staten Island Advance.

April 21:  Jaqwan Cephus McGill, 16, North Carolina, a 5-6, 155-pound running back for South Columbus High School, collapsed at a convenience store and was pronounced dead at hospital.  Autopsy was performed but results remain unavailable online. Sources: Fayetteville Observer and WECT-TV.

April 15:  Mekail Evans, 17, Alabama, a 5-10, 195-pound linebacker for Clay-Chalkville High School, collapsed and died at home following a workout. The teen had a heart condition that was previously undiagnosed, say family members. Sources: Trussville Tribune and Al.com.

April 6:   Ronald Cunningham, 19, North Carolina, a 6-2, 285-pound lineman for St. Augustine’s University, collapsed on campus, possibly of cardiac arrest, and died at hospital.  Cunningham had recently injured a knee in football practice and was awaiting surgery. Pathology results, if any, are unavailable online. Sources: WTVR-TV, WRAL-TV, Charlotte News Observer and Richmond Times-Dispatch.

March 25:  Will McKamey, 19, Maryland, a 5-9, 170-pound running back for the U.S. Naval Academy, collapsed of a brain bleed at practice on March 22 and died three days later in hospital, following surgery. No football contact distinguishable on video could be linked to the injury, say family members. McKamey previously suffered a severe brain bleed in football, 2012, when he was a high-school senior in Tennessee, but no surgery was performed after that incident and he returned to the sport. Sources: USA Today and TheDailyBeast.com.

March 8:  DaQuan Henderson, 15, South Carolina, a defensive lineman for Whale Branch Early College High School, died at a hospital. Henderson’s mother said her son had been diagnosed with irregular heartbeat and a coroner reportedly determined natural causes for the death. Further information is unavailable online. Sources: Beaufort Gazette and MarshelsWrightDonaldson.com.

March 2: Desmond Pollard, 17, Texas, a 6-2, 180-pound receiver for Gilmer High School, collapsed and died during a pickup basketball game. Pathology results, if any, are unavailable online. Sources: KLTV-TV and KYTX-TV.

Feb. 8:  Eddie Key III, 18, Nebraska, a 6-2, 270-pound lineman for Wayne State University, died in his sleep. Autopsy results reportedly list the cause as pulmonary edema, fluid buildup in the lungs caused by heart failure. Sources: KOLN-TV and Lincoln Journal Star.

Feb. 7:  Ted Agu, 21, California, a 6-1, 240-pound defensive lineman for the University of California-Berkeley, became stricken during a team conditioning session and died. Autopsy results released in spring reportedly listed the cause as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, thickening of the heart, but the player’s family later filed a wrongful death lawsuit, alleging he had a known sickle-cell condition. Sources: The Associated Press, San Francisco Chronicle, and SFGate.com.

Jan. 17:  Joseph Cooks, 18, Florida, a 6-foot-2, 165-pound wide receiver for Southeastern University, died in his sleep. Pathology results, if any, are unavailable online. Source: Lakeland Ledger.

Matt Chaney, with a MA in electronic media studies, is an independent writer, editor, teacher, and restaurant cook in Missouri, USA. For more information, including about his book Spiral of Denial: Muscle Doping in American Football (2009), visit the homepage at www.fourwallspublishing.com. Email him at mattchaney@fourwallspublishing.com.

Brain Bleeds Among American Football Players, 2014

By Matt Chaney

Posted Monday, October 13, 2014

Last week a Texas boy became another severe brain casualty among American football players this year.

Details are sketchy for what led Clay Carpenter, 12, to collapse twice during football practice at Eustace Middle School last Tuesday night.

Carpenter was transported by ambulance to a local emergency room then flown by helicopter to a major trauma center in Dallas.

The boy was responsive following emergency brain surgery at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, said his mother. “We’re just thankful he’s awake,” Leticia Carpenter told The Athens Review.

Leticia Carpenter said the injury “didn’t appear to have occurred after a collision with another player.”

As young Clay Carpenter remains hospitalized, at least six additional survivors of severe brain bleeds among American football players are known publicly, based on online reports thus far in 2014.

Recovery continues for all seven. See the annotated brain-bleed cases at bottom, along with capsules on one stroke victim and more casualties among football players in 2014.

Additional severe brain injuries have likely occurred and some will become public in future calendar years, beyond 2014, as demonstrated by cases from years such as 2013, 2012 and 2011, emerging still in reports.

Regarding football of 2011, for example, several critical brain injuries were later revealed in locales such as California, Alabama, and North Carolina. Even the brain-bleed case of an NFL player, caused by congenital artery malformation and possibly related to football, was “kept quiet” for two years.

Further types of head injuries for football 2014, reported in Google banks thus far, include an orbital-lobe fracture of a college football player and  blindness of an eye for a prep.

Severe Brain Bleeds Reported Among Football Players in 2014

Cases require medical review for scientific qualification above raw data, which is news content. Cases are reported online by news media then collected through electronic search by Matt Chaney; email him at mattchaney@fourwallspublishing.com.

Oct. 7:  Clay Carpenter, 12, Texas, a football player for Eustace Middle School, collapsed of a brain bleed during football practice. Surgery was performed and the boy remains hospitalized, reports The Athens Review.

Sept. 26: Brandyn Flores, teenager, Texas, a senior football player for Tornillo High School, sustained a brain bleed during a game. Surgery was performed and Flores remained comatose for six days. He has been released from hospital and recovery continues. Sources: KVIA-TV, El Paso Times and Facebook.com.

Sept. 12:  James McGinnis, teenager, Kansas, a senior football player for Olathe East High School, collapsed of a brain bleed during a game. Surgery was performed and McGinnis continues recovery at a rehabilitation center, reports KMBC.com

Sept. 12:  Robert Back, teenager, a junior football player for Belt High School, sustained a brain bleed during a game, reportedly of impact. Surgery was performed and Back remains hospitalized.  Sources: Great Falls Tribune and GoFundMe.com.

Aug. 28:  Dillon Fuller, 16, Wisconsin, a running back for Hartford Union High School, sustained a brain bleed of contact during a game. An initial surgery has been followed by a second brain operation and recovery is promising. Sources: WTMJ-TV and WDJT-TV.

Aug. 14:  Parker Scott, 16, Nebraska, a football player for Millard West High School, sustained a brain bleed during practice, reportedly of contact. Surgery was performed and recovery is promising, reports The Omaha World-Herald.

April 5:  D’Ondre Ransom, adult, California, a semipro football player for the Sacramento Wildcats, sustained a brain bleed during a game, reportedly of contact. Surgery was performed and Ransom remained comatose for weeks, at last report. Sources: KXTV-TV and Sacramento.CBSLocal.com.

Cerebral Stroke Reported Online Among Football Players, 2014

Sept. 3:  Nathaniel Brumett, teenager, West Virginia, a freshman football player for Coal Valley High School, sustained a fractured cervical vertebra during practice that led to a stroke, blood clotting in the brain. At last report, Sept. 5, Brumett was hospitalized in ICU with spinal surgery pending, reports The Ironton Tribune.

Additional Brain Cases Reported Among Football Players, 2014

Sept. 26:  Andrew Buzynski, teenager, Iowa, a sophomore football player for Wapsie Valley High School, sustained a concussion during a game and was hospitalized for one week. Buzynski has returned to school and recovery is strong. Sources: Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier and KWWL-TV.

July 16:  Max Haddad, 17, California, a football player for John Burroughs High School, sustained a brain bleed of collision during a scrimmage without pads and helmets. Within hours doctors determined swelling had subsided and Haddad was released from hospital after one day, reports LosAngeles.CBSLocal.com.

Matt Chaney is an independent writer, editor, teacher, and restaurant cook in Missouri, USA. For more information, including about his book Spiral of Denial: Muscle Doping in American Football, visit the homepage at www.fourwallspublishing.com. Email him at mattchaney@fourwallspublishing.com.

Cardiac Arrest Likely Kills Most in Football 2014

American football’s possible role in a player’s sudden death is difficult to assess, particularly in a case of cardiac arrest outside physical activity. But athletic exertion is presumably contributing to many player fatalities this year, among the sampling 21 cases in this review. 

By Matt Chaney

Posted Wednesday, August 20, 2014

American football, with but one player’s death of field collision so far in 2014, might be poised to inspire proclamations of “safer” play. Last year, eight players died of football contact, all teens.

But the violent game is only beginning its regular season, traditionally the deadliest calendar stretch. In 2013, for example, the second collision death did not occur until Aug. 16, opening a run of seven direct fatalities in 12 weeks of prep football.

And more young football players are dying unexpectedly in America—especially this year—amid circumstances such as collapsing during a workout, succumbing while asleep, and developing blood clots. These fatalities are largely unverifiable for solid link to the sport that poses bodily stresses beyond physical battering.

A 2014 sampling is below, 21 deaths of active players through Aug. 16, mostly teens, culled from reports online. Death investigation continues for many of these casualties while other cases have concluded without pathology exam.

When cause isn’t field contact, death investigation of an American football player meets obstacles for objective establishment or dismissal of a game link. Medical specialization is required for accurately diagnosing illness like cardiac arrest, for its varied forms, and the process optimally involves experts of multiple disciplines.

Postmortem analysis of a football player, however, is often left to unqualified officials who are merely available, such as a general physician or elected coroner—or no autopsy at all.

Bottom line, no research entity can accurately determine the true number of football-related deaths, and notably not the “National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research” at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. No party has succeeded despite a century of published statistics, incomplete yet widely repeated, because case-collecting cannot properly access and assess the sport’s vast domain.

The football data’s entire history is fault-ridden, in need of redefining and reclassification for disjointed and limited collecting since the Victorian Era, by parties such as news media, game-funded groups like the NCCSIR, and this reporter.

The problem is apparent in overview of football deaths to-date in 2014, particularly the select 21 cases below.

Cardiac arrest likely caused the majority of these deaths, which also include cases of heatstroke, apparently, but information is lacking in public reports.

Conjecture even lingers over the single collision fatality, Navy running back Will McKamey last spring, based on statements by his parents that seemingly absolve football for culpability.

Certainly, evidence of football’s role in many of these casualties will pass undetected, whether missed, lost or ignored.

Epidemiological study remains a lofty goal, therefore, on mortality risk and outcome in American football. Valid and reliable numbers on catastrophic casualties, including survivors, must be harvested from a injurious environment hosting four to five million players scattered over 50 states, with about 95 percent of the population being juveniles.

Such research, unforeseen at this time, would necessitate a massive commitment of money and expertise, along with extraordinary cooperation by athletes, families, and football officials.

The 2014 death cases below are compiled strictly of information available in Google banks, primarily news reports, and require qualified, specialized follow-up for medical designation.

Not included are the deaths of active football players such as suicides and drug overdoses.

My condolences to the families of deceased players.

 

21 Fatality Cases of American Football Players in 2014

From Google reports through August 20

By Matt Chaney

Email: mattchaney@fourwallspublishing.com

Jan. 17:  Joseph Cooks, 18, Florida, a 6-foot-2, 165-pound wide receiver for Southeastern University, died in his sleep. Pathology results, if any, are unavailable online.

Feb. 7:  Ted Agu, 21, California, a 6-1, 240-pound defensive lineman for the University of California-Berkeley, became stricken during a team conditioning session and died. Autopsy results released in spring reportedly listed the cause as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, thickening of the heart, but the player’s family later filed a wrongful death lawsuit, alleging he had a known sickle-cell condition.

Feb. 8:  Eddie Key III, 18, Nebraska, a 6-2, 270-pound lineman for Wayne State University, died in his sleep. Autopsy results reportedly list the cause as pulmonary edema, fluid buildup in the lungs caused by heart failure.

March 2:  Desmond Pollard, 17, Texas, a 6-2, 180-pound receiver for Gilmer High School, collapsed and died during a pickup basketball game. Pathology results, if any, are unavailable online.

March 8:  DaQuan Henderson, 15, South Carolina, a defensive lineman for Whale Branch Early College High School, died at a hospital. Henderson’s mother said her son had been diagnosed with irregular heartbeat and a coroner reportedly determined natural causes for the death. Further information is unavailable online.

March 25:  Will McKamey, 19, Maryland, a 5-9, 170-pound running back for the U.S. Naval Academy, collapsed of a brain bleed at practice on March 22 and died three days later in hospital, following surgery. Football contact linked to the injury was indistinguishable on video of the practice, said family members. McKamey previously suffered a severe brain bleed in football, 2012, when he was a high-school senior in Tennessee, but no surgery was performed after that incident and he returned to the sport.

April 6:   Ronald Cunningham, 19, North Carolina, a 6-2, 285-pound lineman for St. Augustine’s University, collapsed on campus, possibly of cardiac arrest, and died at hospital.  Cunningham had recently injured a knee in football practice and was awaiting surgery. Pathology results, if any, are unavailable online.

April 15:  Mekail Evans, 17, Alabama, a 5-10, 195-pound linebacker for Clay-Chalksville, collapsed and died at home following a workout. The teen had a heart condition that was previously undiagnosed, said family members.

April 21:  Jaqwan Cephus McGill, 16, North Carolina, a 5-6, 155-pound running back for South Columbus High School, collapsed and died. Autopsy was performed but results remain unavailable online.

April 27:  James Michael Creamer Jr., 15, New York, a lineman for St. Peter’s Boys High School, died in sleep at his home.  An allergic reaction or choking may have contributed to the death, said family members.

May 13:  MarQuavious Payne, 17, Georgia, a 5-11, 185-pound linebacker for Cedar Shoals High School, died during sleep at home. Pathology results are unavailable online.

May 21:  An unidentified eighth-grade boy, 14, New Jersey, collapsed while throwing a football during PE class and died at hospital. The incident occurred at Thomas E. Harrington Middle School.

June 30:  Gage Meeks, 11, Louisiana, who was preparing to play football for Calhoun Middle School, became stricken at home and died at hospital. A doctor said cardiac arrest caused the death.

June 30:  Sean Tillotson, 17, Vermont, a running back and tight end for Oxbow Union High School, died of a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot lodged in lung tissue, during an airport layover in Denver, Colorado. Tillotson was recovering from a second surgery on a knee that was injured the previous football season.

July 21:  Shawn Afryl, 22, Minnesota, a 6-3, 310-pound offensive lineman for Winona State University, collapsed during a conditioning workout and died at hospital. Cardiac arrest reportedly caused the death.

Aug. 5:  Trey Aldrich, 16, Kentucky, a senior football player for Allen Central High School, died in his home. An autopsy was planned but further information is unavailable online.

Aug. 6:  Noah Cornuet, 16, Pennsylvania, a 6-2, 270-pound lineman for Burrell High School, collapsed at football practice then died at hospital. Reportedly, a non-cancerous heart tumor caused the death. Further information is unavailable online.

Aug. 10:  Dan Malakoski, 36, Pennsylvania, collapsed while playing flag football and died at hospital, reportedly of cardiac arrest.

Aug. 11:  Zyrees Oliver, 17, Georgia, an offensive lineman for Douglas County High School, died of over-hydration a few hours after football practice. Further pathology results are pending but currently unavailable online.

Aug. 13:  William Shogran Jr., 14, a lineman for Sebastian River High School, collapsed at football practice then died at hospital. Heat illness possibly contributed, according to reports. Further information was unavailable at time of this posting.

Aug. 16:  Will Wheeler, 17, Massachusetts, a 5-11, 165-pound defensive back for Central Catholic High School, died during sleep at home. Autopsy is planned, reportedly, but no results are yet available online.