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Death of college football player during training session sparks intense debate in the sport

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19-year-old offensive lineman, Jordan Mcnair, was rushed to hospital on the 29th May following signs of distress and suffering from what is believed to be a seizure during a training session with his team, The University of Maryland.

 

According to ESPN, McNair died two weeks later in hospital after showing servere signs of extreme exhaustion, difficulty standing upright and a body temperature of 41 degrees. His high temperature suggesting he was not properly cooled down by staff before being taken to receive treatment, differing from school protocol.

The workout was aimed at strength and conditioning, where coaches would utilise a set of sprints. It was during these sprints where McNair started facing severe difficulty and what is believed to have brought on his seizure.

The University of Maryland have since placed Head Coach, DJ Durkin, on administrative leave during the investigation, with the strength coach who was in charge of the workout leaving the school altogether. The president of the school, Wallace D Loh, has claimed to have personally apologised to the family and has accepted full legal responsibility for McNair’s death.

For years, an outsider often perceives American Football as a sport that harbours a toxic mentality, one that is certainly to have been made worse by the death of McNair. Some even go as far to suggest that the sport’s hyper-levels of intimidation and fear forces athletes to push themselves too far in unsafe conditions that ultimately risk their health.

This is epitomised in the research of Scott Anderson, the head athletic trainer at The University of Oklahoma. His research found that between the years 2000 and 2016, 33 players died playing the sport, averaging two deaths a season. 27 of those deaths were non-traumatic, caused by intense levels of exercise. Anderson’s report also found that 26 out of 27 of those deaths occurred during the off season, where athletes intensely fight for a place in the squad for the upcoming season.

McNair’s tragic and unnecessary death follows the damning findings of Anderson’s research. Offseason training is clearly the most dangerous period of time for a young football player, where they are willing to push themselves to be the best. Of course, it is the job of a coach to help athletes boost their endurance, strength and toughness but they also need to be able to recognise their limits for the good of the athlete’s health.

Exhaustion induced deaths are shocking when it comes to athletes, but there are even more startling cases of young athletes being pushed to their limits and severely damaging their health, but luckily escaping the same fate of McNair. 

In January 2017, the University of Oregon had three of their athletes hospitalised for several days due to strenuous and exhausting conditions that brought on the dangerous symptoms of heatstroke. It is reported that the football players were subjected to an hour of continuous push ups, before the players were taken ill. 

The culture of training clearly lies at the heart of the issue and Anderson suggests that with an overhaul in mentality and an addition of a few new features in sessions, unsafe sessions can easily be made safe. By adding ice baths to the side-lines of the training pitch and just by placing an athlete's health at the centre of all training, the coaches will already be improving and stabilising conditions for these young athletes, making the sport as safe as it should be.

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