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
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.