We took Princess No. 1 to college a couple of Saturdays ago and looked forward to returning for some football games, as she successfully auditioned to be a dancer in the marching band.
Like most parents, we’re simultaneously excited and worried about our 18-year-old freshman being off on her own. Some of the folks she meets on campus will become like siblings to her and more offspring for us. Which means our emotions will be spread and invested in new vessels.
Well, there was a death in the family this week.
None of us knew the young man but it hurts just the same.
Morgan State defensive tackle Marquese Meadow was an 18-year-old freshman who graduated from Friendship Collegiate Academy in northeast D.C. He had cracked the Bears’ two-deep roster and was expected to make the travel team. But he became disoriented after an Aug. 10 practice and died Sunday.
“This is a very difficult time for our football family,” coach Lee Hull said Tuesday on the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s weekly teleconference. “We are very heartbroken by the death of Marquese Meadow. We offer our deepest condolences to Marquese’s family in the wake of this tragedy.
“Marquese was a great young man and a member of this family and was highly respected and loved by his teammates and the coaching staff. He was an unselfish kid and had an incredible gift and a bright future, and he will be deeply missed.”
I can’t shake the feeling that Meadow’s tragic death was totally unnecessary.
He didn’t die from brain trauma like Will McKamey, the 19-year-old Navy freshman who passed away after practice in March. He didn’t die from a genetic heart condition like Jake West, the 17-year-old LaPorte (Ind.) High junior who passed away after practice in September. He didn’t die from asthma, a broken neck, an abdominal injury or a sudden blow to the chest, all of which have claimed the lives of young football players in recent years.
According to the state medical examiner’s office, Meadow died from heatstroke.
That’s the easiest cause of death to defend against, yet it continues to be problematic.
An annual study released in March by the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research found that 31 players in the U.S. have died of heat-related illnesses in the past decade. Among high school players, there were 41 such deaths since 1995.
The issue gained national attention in 2001 when Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Korey Stringer died of heatstroke, prompting a flurry of new policies at every level of football. But health experts such as Douglas Casa, chief operating officer of the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut, are dispirited because the problem persists even though it’s avoidable.
“It’s staggering,” Casa told my colleague Tom Schad. “I’m the one sitting across from the parents of the dead kids when I’m an expert witness. And I have to explain to them that with ice water and a tub, their kid would have lived.”
The dangers of football are well-documented and increasingly in the news nowadays.
Concussions and their repercussions have led to class-action lawsuits against the NFL and NCAA, with proposed settlements of $765 million and $70 million, respectively. We have seen an emphasis on new tackling techniques, less contact during practice and strict guidelines for injured players returning to games, all in an effort to reduce the sport’s inherent risks.
Nonetheless, “accidents” are bound happen when humans collide at high rates of speed. No amount of padding can guarantee that heads and necks will be unaffected by tackle football. Participants and spectators know that going in and everyone accepts the reality.
But every measure should be in place to prevent heat-related illness. How much trouble and expense is involved in having a tub of ice water on the sideline? The National Athletic Trainers’ Association says victims who are submerged within 30 minutes of collapsing have a 100 percent survival rate.
Kelly Dougherty, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania told the New York Daily News that the number of heat-related fatalities is “quite alarming. These are preventable deaths,” she said.
The missus and I plan to attend Morgan State’s home-opener against Bowie State in two weeks. We’ll be among the proud parents of freshmen dancers, flag bearers, cheerleaders, instrumentalists and, yes, football players who will perform that day.
But I suspect we’ll observe a moment of silence and carry a bit of heaviness in our hearts for Meadow.
It would be easier to take if we believed his death would help prevent the next one.
Sadly, judging by the sport’s track record, that isn’t the expectation.