Football is a dangerous game, and society has started to pay a lot more attention to the injuries that can happen to players of that sport. The focus to this point has been largely on head injuries, and while those are certainly something to be concerned about, they aren’t the only dangers players face.
Between 1975 and 1994 there were 24 heat-related deaths among college and high school athletes, and that number almost doubled to 42 between 1995 and 2009.
Heat-related injuries or deaths don’t sound like an obvious threat to football players, because the game is so strongly associated with autumn, but practice, which is where these deaths and injuries happen, tend to start at the end of summer, generally the hottest part of the year. This is especially bad in the southeast, where football is a big deal and the temperatures and humidity tend to be very high. A University of Georgia study of four NCAA seasons found 365,000 cases of heat exposure, and 553 cases of external heat illness.
“Heat illness is 100 percent preventable as long as the appropriate steps are taken to ensure an occurrence does not happen,” said Bud Cooper, associate clinical professor in the department of kinesiology at UGA’s College of Education. “This includes knowing [players’] past medical history, implementing proper rest and hydration breaks, modifying your practice as the weather dictates, getting proper nutrition and rest, and recognizing the signs of exertional heat illness.”
One way to prevent heat-related injuries is monitoring temperature and humidity and making sure that athletes get enough hydration and breaks in order to keep them healthy. It also might be worth thinking about allowing players to acclimatize to the heat, starting practices earlier in the day when the weather isn’t as hot, and adjusting the starting point of the college and high school football seasons, pushing them back in order to better prevent such injuries.