Thursday, August 29, 2013

Football Deaths Underreported in Game-Funded Studies

By Matt Chaney

A teen football player dies suddenly in America, for reasons unrelated to collisions on the field, and the postmortem investigation produces more questions than answers—particularly whether the stressful sport contributed mortally.

And so it goes for too many fatal cases of active football players, mostly juveniles, with the game’s possible link neither verified nor nullified because of two prime areas of limitation:

First, the reputedly “deficient” state of autopsy in America, especially for children, as part of the death-investigations system that a National Academy of Sciences report characterizes as “fragmented” and “hodgepodge.”

And, secondly, the equally challenged research field of football fatalities, presently funded by game organizations and led by two men lacking medical doctorates and certifications, Fred Mueller and Bob Colgate, a professor and a sport administrator, respectively, who largely troll news reports for gathering incomplete data.

“This goes back to medicine’s still being more of an art than a science,” says retired epidemiologist Charles Yesalis, ScD, an expert and author on health issues of athletics, in a telephone interview.

Football’s mortality rate remains incalculable, despite those longstanding Mueller-Colgate statistics widely cited as epidemiology, including by the CDC.

Holes in death investigations are “known for years,” Yesalis says. “You have the problems articulated (by the NAS), but it goes beyond that. It’s often based on whether an autopsy is done. And even if an autopsy is performed on the athlete, there are a lot of times that it’s just not nailed down, particularly, regarding what’s the cause of death and the like. So there’s that issue.”

Meanwhile, the researchers aiming to quantify football’s risk and casualty face their own obstacles.

Beyond the few cases of collision fatalities tied directly to the sport, injury researchers typically rely on minimal data for judging whether a case was “indirectly” game-related, such as a cardiac death.

News texts, particularly the portion posted in online databases, certainly report only a fraction of severe football casualties, although it’s unknown how large or small the margin.

Anecdotal information and subjectivity can influence the record-keeping process, like coaches’ quotes and other bits from news. In many cardiac cases that kill players, grieving parents declare football was not a factor; some families refuse to cooperate with researchers.

For player deaths involving autopsy, researchers Mueller and Colgate value official rulings, but local coroners or medical examiners, elected to the job in many jurisdictions, often do not go far in probing cause or link to football. Many coroners and MEs are incapable themselves and no specialists are enlisted who could shed light.

“You really have to start digging through the medical charts,” Yesalis suggests for strengthening a Mueller-Colgate study, although “the variability of (medical records) is scary when it comes to producing really solid research.”

“All this variability, of how the medical record is written, how it is accessed or not by the researchers, and whether it’s clear that this event was precipitated and related to some sport activity—football, track and field, whatever—anybody who thinks the process is precise is very na├»ve and hasn’t done a lot of work with medical records, examining them for research purposes.”

This review of 35 players who died during 2012—see list of annotated cases below—demonstrates the problem: Determining death risk and casualty in vast American football remains a lofty goal, mere talk for the foreseeable future, despite contemporary clamor for accurate injury reporting as part of a “safer” game.

Indeed, Mueller and Colgate, supported by football and published under auspices of Mueller’s National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research (NCCSIR) at UNC-Chapel Hill, qualify merely 15 of these fatalities as game-related for their 2012 report.

Central focus here is the sample of 20 deceased football players missed by Mueller and Colgate for 2012. The review makes no scientific claim beyond the raw data that comprise these news reports. No follow-up is performed on any case, keeping the information in correlate with the generic, brief cases presented by Mueller and Colgate, relying themselves on data culled almost strictly from published news.

Heart problems constitute the leading cause in the sample 20 cases that also include deaths of blood clots, diabetic seizure and football impacts. The sampling from Google banks does not include other sudden deaths of active players available in news, nor painkiller overdoses and suicides of active players that medical experts often suspect to be game-related.

Football Cardiac Deaths Numerous, Underreported

Many medical authorities believe death rates of sports are higher than reported tallies, and in the United States tackle football is chief for their concern, among organized games offered by municipalities, schools and colleges.

As crisis strikes American football, once again for inherent brutality, the modern model for advocacy counter-argument, or the messages of writers proclaiming the game safe as most activities for youths, and of professors who rebuke accumulating research on brain risk and damage, do not impress authorities like Dr. Robert D. Stevens, a critical-care neurologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

“I have a son who is 12, and I’m very grateful he doesn’t want to play football,” Stevens tells The Chicago Sun-Times. “I don’t think we know enough to know we aren’t exposing our kids to harm.”

Yesalis concurs, himself a doctoral graduate of the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, “If I had a son now, there’s no way in hell he’d play football. Wouldn’t happen,” Yesalis says. “I couldn’t permit it as an epidemiologist.”

Neither could Dr. Lewis Margolis, apparently, a pediatrician and epidemiologist at UNC-Chapel Hill, associate professor in the Gillings School of Global Public Health. Margolis argues no further research findings are needed for placing national moratorium on tackle football, a public health menace for brain injuries that needs impact reform to proceed, legally and ethically.

“Football-related head trauma and concussions have raised sentinel alarms, so all who care about children and young adults must not remain silent as this epidemic spreads,” Dr. Margolis writes in a co-authored analysis for InsideHigherEd.com, joined by Gregory Margolis, senior research assistant for the Center of Children and Families at the Brookings Institution. “The principles of informed consent, nonmaleficence, fairness, and community participation demand a halt in the way the game is played, until the risks are better understood and controlled,” they conclude.

At Indiana University, a 2011 study on stroke risk in teen football players found potential causal agents of the sport like “increased hyperventilation, repeated neurological injury, use of anabolic steroids, use of highly caffeinated energy drinks and increased obesity among young players.”

Co-authors Dr. Jared R. Brosch and Dr. Meredith R. Golomb added in a statement: “Organized childhood tackle football in the United States can begin at age 5 years, leading to potentially decades of repeated brain injuries. In addition, the body mass index of the United States pediatric football-playing population continues to increase, so the forces experienced by tackled pediatric players continue to increase. Further work is needed to understand how repeated high-impact large-force trauma from childhood football affects the immature central nervous system.”

Football’s ever-increasing sizes obviously tax other systems of the human body, besides for collisions. When an active player is killed by conditions unrelated to impacts, extensive and careful examination best ensures identifying cause and contributing factors, according to experts on sudden death.

“One of the most frustrating challenges faced by the forensic pathologist is the inability to determine the cause of death in a young person previously thought healthy,” observed Drs. Stephen D. Cohle and B.A. Sampson, co-authors of a 2001 review on negative autopsy or inconclusive investigation.

The co-authors recommend steps including microscopic autopsy, appropriate lab tests, and preservation of specimens such as blood, urine, bile and frozen spleen.

Cardiac deaths are perhaps the deadliest class in football, if largely unproven for the game’s being an impetus.

A suspect cardiac death demands special applications for thorough investigation. “When examining the heart grossly it is important to preserve the anatomic landmarks, (to) section the coronary arteries closely, and recognize lethal abnormalities such as anomalous origin of the coronary arteries,” Cohle and Sampson stated, noting some conditions stand nearly undetectable: “Lethal cardiac diseases with minimal or no anatomic findings include Brugade and Garg’s syndromes, the long QT syndrome, and Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome.”

“Consultation with other experts, including cardiac pathologists, cardiologists, electrophysiologists, and molecular biologists, may be helpful in determining a cause of death.”

A recent British study calls for valid tracking and diagnosis of cardiac mortality in sport populations. Dr. Mary N. Sheppard, author ofAetiology of Sudden Cardiac Death in Sport: A Histopathologist’s Perspective, summarizes: “For the future, it is imperative that pathologists develop standardized methods, pathological criteria for (autopsy) entities, and provide clear reporting in all these cases. However, at the present moment it is essential that the heart of all young individuals dying unexpectedly is examined by an expert cardiac pathologist.”

No national standards govern autopsy in the United States, regarding procedures or personnel certifications, and that affects public record and context on sudden deaths in football.

Among the sample of 20 player fatalities omitted by the Mueller-Colgate report for 2012, the majority bore signs of cardiac arrest or heart attack, and autopsies confirmed those causes in some cases. No coroner or ME extrapolated from available information to conclude football activity was involved, according to news reports online.

But medical consensus holds that physical exertion routinely triggers heart attack and cardiac arrest, with the latter particularly deadly in athletic activities. “As someone told me, sudden cardiac arrest is not rare; surviving it is,” says Laura Friend, of Texas, whose 12-year-old daughter, Sarah, died of SCD while swimming.

“Sudden death in young athletes is often due to some congenital abnormality of the heart that is sometimes asymptomatic, making it a silent killer,” reports Dr. Leigh Vinocur, for HuffingtonPost.com. “A majority of these cases are due to a condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). This inherited defect causes the muscular wall of the heart… to be asymmetrically or irregularly enlarged. This interferes with, or prevents, blood from flowing out of the heart when it is beating fast during exercise.”

In addition, genetic heart arrhythmias combined with athletic exertion can send the mitotic organ askew, its electric current, and produce “fast and chaotic beating of the heart” that causes cardiac arrest, notes Vincour, an ER physician in Maryland.

Fatal heart problems occurred last year for American football players ranging from young to middle-aged, with several succumbing in team settings, during game-specific sessions of practice and other training. Football’s official record-keepers missed at least two reported cases, the sudden deaths at official football workouts of Willie Mims, 43, a semipro player in Pennsylvania, and of Temoc Castellanos, 15, a prep in California.

Mims died at team practice during a hot July evening in Wilkes-Barre, collapsing while performing foot drills. A friend, Donnie Jackson-Bey, said doctors believed a pre-existing heart condition caused the death.

Last December, Castellanos, an honors student and Life Scout, collapsed while running during offseason “junior varsity football practice” at Jordan High School, reported BelmontShore.Patch.com. The teen died in a hospital three days later and a “heart abnormality” was suspected, said family friend Yolanda Veronica James.

It is unclear why Mueller and Colgate do not qualify the deaths of Mims and Castellanos as football-related. Perhaps they’re committing further errors at electronic search for casualties, among NCCSIR problems documented at ChaneysBlog in recent years. Researchers at the NCCSIR do not answer questions about their method and results, at least queries from this analyst.

In other cases missing from the UNC statistics for 2012, football players died after falling stricken during personal training or physical activity in the sport’s offseason, including Matt Tautolo, 20, and Anthony Vaeao, 18, both of California, and Austin Lempera, 16, Illinois, and Thomas Allen, 17, in Alabama.

Tautolo collapsed at a campus field of Cerritos College, during a January activity alternatively described as a PE class and the “first day of football orientation” for players. He was pronounced dead within the hour, and autopsy results are unavailable online. Tautolo reportedly had heart surgery in 2008.

Vaeao died in May, as a 6-foot-3, 325-pound lineman bound for college football, after collapsing while playing basketball during a PE class at Mission Hills High School. An autopsy concluded cause of death was HCM, an enlarged heart, with obesity a contributing factor. Vaeao’s size, however, had undoubtedly attracted football recruiters, and he was signed to play for Arizona Western College.

Lempera died in November, when he fell stricken during individual exercise at home. Doctors said heart attack or cardiac arrest apparently killed Lempera, who was a slender, fit defensive lineman his football coach described as “tireless” in training for the team at Lincoln-Way Central High School.

Allen died at Lawrence County High School, of a pickup football game before Christmas break. Allen was throwing and catching a football, with his coach nearby, when he collapsed. He was pronounced died at a hospital, and preliminary exam indicated a heart attack as cause.

Football players training in the offseason died during sleep in 2012, of heart attack and cardiac malfunctions either suspected or confirmed. Mueller and Colgate do not count several cases as game casualties, such as (add links): Tanner Barton, a 6-3, 290-pound lineman for Marian University in Indiana; Cody Stephens, 18, Texas, a 6-9, 305-pound tackle recruit headed to Tarleton State University; Jalen Davis, Tennessee, a receiver and cornerback for Lebanon High School; and David Widzinski, 16, Michigan, a 6-3, 210-pound linebacker and running back for Detroit Catholic High School.

Elsewhere, New York, 14-year-old Tyler Miller died in sleep amid football season, as he both played for Barker/Royalton-Heartland High School and coached in youth football.

Additionally, football players were found unresponsive in dormitory rooms in at least two fatal cases: lineman Milton Stewart, amid his offseason training at Arkansas Baptist University, with his medical history of seizures possibly involved; and Sherrell Smith, 18, a receiver just arrived at Missouri Valley College, for preseason practice, whom a coroner determined died of diabetic ketoacidosis.

None of these deaths involved football as contributing factor, according to Mueller and Colgate.

Their 2012 report, however, does count a pair of highly similar cases as game-related: Tyrone Duplessis, 21, and Gary Tinsley, 22, both at large universities.

A heart attack killed Duplessis, a 5-8, 200-pound running back at Louisiana Tech, according to information from family members. Duplessis was training in the football offseason when he awoke from sleep and suffered the fatal event.

Tinsley was an NFL hopeful training in springtime on campus, graduating from the University of Minnesota, where he had starred at linebacker four years for the Golden Gophers. But Tinsley, 6-1, 231 pounds, died in his dormitory room because of enlarged heart, cardiomegaly, according to a medical examiner’s ruling.

Football Escapes Blame for Pulmonary Embolism in Players

Football-funded researchers are hard-pressed to associate the game with some types of blood clots that threaten or kill players, particularly involving the lungs and extremities.

A pair of tragic cases occurred in 2011, of Marcellis Williamson, 23, and Alec Mounkes, 13, with both player deaths disqualified as game-related by Mueller and Colgate for their year’s UNC report.

Williamson was an NFL hopeful in training that spring, a recent graduate of Ohio University, where he excelled in football as a noseguard at 6-1, 327 pounds. He died before the NFL draft of pulmonary thrombosis, a mobile blood clot that lodged in lung artery, according to autopsy results released by his father, Brian Perkins.

The coroner’s office found the blood clot but not its origin, which could have helped answer questions regarding a possible football link to Williamson’s death. “They took a sample to see if they could figure out where (the blood clot) came from,” Perkins told The Ohio University Post. “Without any trauma in other areas, it was hard to determine where it came from.”

Mounkes, of Kansas, was a seventh grader who sustained an ankle injury during a football game for Lyndon Middle School in October 2011. Blood clots developed and the boy was hospitalized for weeks, undergoing amputation of both legs and suffering cardiac arrest before he died of surgery complications, according to information released by the school.

Blood-clot deaths of three players in 2012 were also passed over by Mueller and Colgate, excluded from statistics for football fatalities: Rico Webb, 17, of Maryland; Ben Jordan, 16, South Carolina; and Jacob Siebert, 14, in Missouri.

Webb, a 6-7, 365-pound senior at Dematha High School in February 2012, as a line recruit for Alabama State University, was training regularly for college football when he was hospitalized for chest pains and died within hours. The cause was a pulmonary embolism, according to a medical examiner’s office.

Jordan, a 6-1, 250-pound offensive lineman for Belton-Honea Path High School, died amid a second bout with an undisclosed blood disorder that hospitalized him in successive football seasons, as a sophomore and a junior. A coroner found cause of death was a “massive” blood clot that reached the lungs.

Siebert, who played for Seckman High School near St. Louis, died during football season of a pulmonary embolism that originated in his legs. Local rumor held that Siebert was hurt at football practice the week before, but school officials said he did not report an injury to coaches. Autopsy revealed no trauma: “I don’t see a connection to any football injury,” said Dr. Mary Case, St. Louis County medical examiner.

Flag Football, '7-On-7' Drills Were Deadly in 2012

Some medical experts consulted by this reporter believe new definitions and classifications are overdue in the study of risk and casualty for American football.

The NCCSIR method at UNC restricts gathering of player deaths and non-fatal catastrophic casualties, with the latter focus confined to survivor cases of the brain, skull and spinal column. The UNC data also do not include grave football casualties among coaches, referees, and bystanders along sidelines, such as a schoolteacher and a TV reporter injured severely by impacts from helmeted football players in 2011.

In addition, UNC researchers rather arbitrarily divide the football realm to pursue cases from select activities within the tackle format only.

Questions surrounding the shaky NCCSIR methodology include:

Should deaths and critical survivor casualties of “7-on-7” drills and flag football be added to annual statistics, for the goal of constructing valid, reliable epidemiology on the American sport?

Is flag football a safe alternative for kids, instead of tackle versions?

Both 7-on-7 and flag football proved certifiably deadly in 2012, producing at least four fatalities among reports online. Two were deaths of impacts, by hits to brain and neck.

In Texas, 15-year-old Jacob Gatlin collided heads with another boy during an “athletics program” session without helmets, at Hawkins ISD High School. Gatlin, apparently an aspiring football player, later fell ill and was air-lifted to a hospital, where he died of a skull fracture and subdural hematoma. According to Hawkins ISD superintendent Dan Rose, “everyone involved with the athletic program knows the steps to follow and the protocol for (head) injuries,” reported The Big Sandy & Hawkins Journal. “The athletics class was mainly a (football) passing drill, also called 7-on-7.” In a prepared statement, Rose attributed Gatlin’s fatal injuries to “flag football.”

Flag football and “touch” football are games generally perceived as benign, practically harmless, but the action is typically fast and physical. American football without helmets and pads nevertheless inspires speed collisions that are hazardous, ranging from blocking among players without armor to passes that draw flying bodies to intersect, smash together, like in the fatal case of Jacob Gatlin.

A baseball player died of violent injuries from touch football at Richton High School in Mississippi, 2012. Alex Lott, 17, and baseball teammates were playing the game as offseason conditioning when he launched headfirst into ground and fractured his neck at the C5 vertebra, damaging the spinal cord. Emergency surgery stabilized the break but Lott’s condition deteriorated; he was placed on life support and passed away of strokes.

At least two sudden-death cases were reported in flag football last year. A 22-year-old man, publicly unidentified, collapsed during a game in Virginia and later died at a hospital. In Texas, Jason Mouton, 18, died after collapsing during intramural practice at Blinn College in Brenham. No autopsy results were posted online.

None of these fatalities qualifies as football-related for 2012, according to Mueller and Colgate at the NCCSIR.

100 Football Deaths Likely Wouldn't Sway Public, Says Yesalis

Advocates of American football recite a popular legend these days, declaring that game brutality began subsiding a century ago, after President Teddy Roosevelt “saved” the sport by making it “safer.” And advocates offer a fatality number as benchmark for football savagery, 18 collisions deaths in 1905, the likes of which are long gone, they say.

Rule changes and “proper technique” for contact, supposedly to reduce head-ramming, are saving graces for football players now, advocates claim.

A few factors render the argument faulty, however, for proclaiming the 1905 gridiron exceeded the danger of modern football, with present-day players largely immune to mortal risk.

Foremost, modern trauma surgery, antibiotic drugs and skull-preserving helmets have dramatically reduced collision deaths in football, down to an average handful in recent years. Mueller and Colgate, in likely their most accurate statistic, find an average of three to four cases annually.

A parallel domain is the U.S. military, where deaths of wounds in Afghanistan, for example, occur at a third of the rate during World War II.

Even Mueller acknowledges modern medicine has lowered direct fatalities in football. “I think that’s related to kids getting better medical care on the field,” Mueller observed in prepared statement last summer. “They’re not dying, but they’re having permanent brain damage.”

In addition, head-bashing upright at full speed was not the prime threat a century ago, but instead the plodding mobs of run-oriented football by slower, smaller players in heads covered by leather.

The sport was just beginning to incorporate forward passing, and plays from scrimmage were like rugby scrums. Most direct casualties resulted from the crushing and ripping of bodies, not the helmet blasts of hard shells today, in open field.

In fact, internal injuries led causes of death in football a century ago, not brain bleeds, according to period news reports and books, along with a contemporary collection of 1905 fatalities by blogger Tom Benjey, a mathematics PhD.

Thus modern medicine is saving a horde of players today who would have died in 1905, hundreds perhaps, for severe internal injuries and conditions largely untreatable a century ago, including cases of heatstroke, cardiac arrest, organ rupture, infection, and blood clots resulting of fractures and sprains.

An Indiana teenager is one of those contemporary survivor cases of internal injuries inflicted during football. Last week Steven Bailey, 15, was catastrophically injured in a game while running the football for Edinburgh High School.

A photo shows multiple tacklers leading with helmets and shoulders hitting Bailey, a collision that ruptured his spleen, lacerated a kidney, and punctured a lung. The life-threatening wounds were first misdiagnosed on the sideline as injured ribs, and the teen began collapsing, unable to sit or walk on crutches.

Bailey’s parents helped load him into a family vehicle and they planned to drive him to a hospital close to their home. Then Steven started screaming in pain and they took him to the nearest emergency room.

“He was pale white when we got there so doctors must have been able to tell it was internal bleeding,” said Harvey Bailey, the father. “As they were pushing the blood into his body, you could see the color coming back into his face. They said it was a good thing we got him there when we did. The decision to take him further down the road would have cost him his life.”

Harvey Bailey describes the lethal impacts on his son as “clean” and says Steven “should be able to play football next season,” reports The Indianapolis Star.

The family hopes Steven is released from the hospital this weekend.

So trauma surgery and power antibiotics save another modern football player, although he now faces long-term health consequences, prescription drug use, and medical bills.

And football advocates carry on, proclaiming mortality rate is practically negligible in a new age of safer play, from youth leagues to the NFL.

Charles Yesalis, the epidemiologist, wonders whether football fatality numbers short of a multitude mean much to the American public, anyway, and he worries for the fact untold survivor cases like Steven Bailey pass unreported, unrecorded in official game statistics.

“When you focus on those 15 deaths (in the 2012 UNC report), or 35, or 50, even a hundred in football, there’s a natural public inclination that ‘Okay, it’s only those 15 or 50 or whatever, and everybody else is fine,’ ” Yesalis says.

“No, everybody else is not fine.”

Coming this fall at ChaneysBlog: Survivors of critical injuries in American football 2012

Matt Chaney is a writer, editor, teacher and restaurant worker living in Missouri, USA. He played and coached football while completing his journalism degree at Southeast Missouri State University in 1985. As a college football player, Chaney used anabolic drugs for performance and suffered a paralyzing knee injury. Later, his thesis study for an MA degree at the University of Central Missouri was qualitative media analysis of historical print coverage of anabolic steroids and HGH in American football, based largely on electronic search among thousands of news texts from the 1970s through 1999. For more information, including about Chaney’s 2009 book, Spiral of Denial: Muscle Doping in American Football, visit the homepage at www.fourwallspublishing.com. Email him at mattchaney@fourwallspublishing.com.


Deaths of American Football Players in Google Reports, 2012

By Matt Chaney, mattchaney@fourwallspublishing.com.

Jan. 10:  Matt Tautolo, 20, California, an aspiring player for Cerritos College, died after collapsing on an athletic field during his first day of football orientation, said head coach Frank Mazzotta. The school announced Tautolo was stricken during “physical education activity class on a campus field,” a report states. Among files in Google at time of this posting, none discussed autopsy findings by the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office, which received the case. Tautolo reportedly had open-heart surgery in 2008. Sources: Cerritos.Patch.com, Cerritos College and Randy Economy.

Feb. 2:  Tyrone Duplessis, 21, Louisiana, a 5-8, 200-pound running back for Louisiana Tech University, died of a heart attack after waking from sleep. The day before, Duplessis attended an offseason workout for the football program. The Lincoln Parish Coroner’s Office received the case and autopsy reportedly found heart attack as cause of death. Sources: New Orleans Times-Picayune and CBSSports.com. *This case qualifies as indirectly related to American football in 2012, according to the Mueller-Colgate report at UNC.

Feb. 26: Rico Webb, 17, Maryland, a 6-7, 365-pound lineman recruit for Alabama State University, senior at Dematha High School, died of a pulmonary thromboembolism, a blood clot in lungs, according to the Office of The Chief Medical Examiner. Webb had been hospitalized hours before his death, complaining of chest pains. The teen was training regularly for college football, a friend said. Sources: Washington Post, NBCWashington.com and WUSA-TV.

March 17:  A 22-year-old male, Virginia, collapsed while playing adult flag football in Arlington. He arose, spoke briefly, and collapsed again. The man, whose name was not publicized, was pronounced dead at a local hospital. A police spokesman suggested a pre-existing medical condition contributed, reports WashingtonExaminer.com.

April 6:  Gary Tinsley, 22, Minnesota, a 6-1, 231-pound linebacker at the University of Minnesota, an aspiring pro player, died in his apartment. Cause of death was cardiomegaly, or enlarged heart, according to the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office. Family and friends said Tinsley had been asymptomatic except for a mention to his mother a few months previous, when he noted experiencing headaches and chest pain during weightlifting and running. Tinsley had played four years of NCAA football for the university and was training for an opportunity with the NFL. Sources: Florida Times-Union and Minnesota Daily. *This case qualifies as indirectly related to American football in 2012, according to the Mueller-Colgate report at UNC.

April 22:  Tanner Barton, 19, Indiana, a 6-3, 290-pound lineman for Marian University, died in sleep at a friend’s house. Police said the teen consumed alcohol the night before but family members rejected alcohol as cause of death, saying they believed an undiagnosed medical condition likely contributed. At time of this posting, no report in Google discussed autopsy or toxicology results from the Howard County Coroner’s Office. Sources: Kokomo Tribune, WCPO-TV, WTHR-TV, WBIW-TV and Facebook.com.

May 6:  Cody Stephens, 18, Texas, a 6-9, 305-pound lineman recruit for Tarleton State University, a senior at Crosby High School, died in sleep. Cause of death was sudden cardiac arrest spurred by “hypercardiomyopathy,” malfunctioning internal fibers of the heart, which was “slightly enlarged,” according to the Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office. The deceased player’s father, Scott Stevens, said a $25 electrocardiogram could have detected his son’s condition as part of a football physical. Sources: Lake Houston Observer, Highlands Star-Crosby Courier and KTRK-TV.

May 6:  Milton Stewart, 19, Arkansas, a football player for Arkansas Baptist University, was found dead in his dormitory room around noon. Police did not suspect foul play, and Stewart’s roommate said the player took medication for a “lifelong seizure ailment.” School officials said that known medical problems of Stewart, like “history of seizures,” may have contributed to the death. At time of this posting, Google search produced no report of autopsy results by the Pulaski County Coroner’s Office. Sources: KLRT-TV, KARK-TV and KTHV-TV.

May 12:  David Coleman II, 32, Ohio, a 6-1, 235-pound offensive and defensive lineman for the semipro team Jay County Panthers of Indiana, died during a game of colliding with an opponent, being struck in his chest. The Lucas County Coroner’s Office received the case and reportedly determined a burst aorta as cause of death. Fundraising helped defray expenses for the family of Coleman, who was unemployed and uninsured. Sources: Toledo Blade, WANE-TV and ESPN.Go.com. *This case qualifies as direct result of American football in 2012, according to the Mueller-Colgate report at UNC.

May 17:  Jacob Gatlin, 15, Texas, a student at Hawkins ISD High School, died two days after a football-related brain injury at the school. Gatlin apparently collided heads with another boy in flag football during a reported “athletics class… mainly a passing drill, also called 7-on-7.” Gatlin was removed from play then sent home when he reported a severe headache. His condition worsened, leading to ICU hospitalization, and death was of a subdural hematoma caused by a fractured skull and ruptured artery, according to the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office. Fundraising helped offset expenses. Sources: Big Sandy & Hawkins Journal, KETK-TV, KYTX-TV and KLTV-TV.

May 17:  Anthony Vaeao, 18, California, a 6-3, 325-pound lineman recruit for Arizona Western College, died after collapsing while playing basketball in physical education class at Mission Hills High School, where he was a senior. Cause of death was cardiac hypertrophy, abnormal enlargement of the heart, with obesity as a contributing factor, according to the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office. Fundraising helped defray expenses. Sources: UTSanDiego.com and XETV-TV.

June 12:  Jalen Davis, teenager, Tennessee, a receiver and cornerback for Lebanon High School, died during sleep at his home. Davis, a sophomore to-be, had been participating in summer workouts at the school for both the football and basketball programs. The Wilson County Coroner’s Office received the case, but no autopsy results were available in Google reports at time of this posting. Sources: Lebanon Democrat and WZTV-TV.

July 6:  Willie Mims, 43, Pennsylvania, a semipro defensive back and receiver, collapsed and died at an evening practice session for the Electric City Chargers in Wilkes-Barre. Mims’ teammates wondered whether heat factored into his death, according to Donnie Jackson-Bey, a teammate who said Mims was stricken while performing foot drills. Family members said doctors believed a pre-existing heart condition likely contributed to the death. No autopsy was mentioned in Google reports.

July 19:  Burke Cobb, 14, Louisiana, a 6-4, 215-pound offensive lineman for Dutchtown High School, collapsed and died after participating in a football workout and pickup basketball game at the school. The Ascension Parish Coroner’s Office received the case, and cause of death reportedly was hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Fundraising helped defray expenses. Sources: Baton Rouge Advocate, WBRZ-TV and HealthFair.com. *This case qualifies as indirectly related to American football in 2012, according to the Mueller-Colgate report at UNC.

July 23:  Nicholas Dellaventura, 15, New York, a 5-8, 210-pound offensive lineman for St. Joseph by-the-Sea High School, died after collapsing during a football conditioning session at the school. Coaches supervised the voluntary workout and players did not wear pads or helmets. Doctors believed a sudden cardiac event likely caused the death, but initial autopsy results were inconclusive, according to the Office of The Chief Medical Examiner on Staten Island. The Dellaventura family has filed a lawsuit alleging heatstroke negligence against football coaches, the school, the athletic director, and the Archdiocese of New York. Sources: Staten Island Advance, New York Post, New York Daily News, New York Times, CBSNews.com, MyFoxNY.com and SILive.com. *This case qualifies as indirectly related to American football in 2012, according to the Mueller-Colgate report at UNC.

Aug. 8:  Daniel Lule, 17, Illinois, a 5-9, 235-pound defensive lineman for Hall High School, died after collapsing during football practice at the school. Lule was stricken during a non-contact agility drill, and cause of death was an enlarged heart, according to the Bureau County Coroner’s Office. Sources: LaSalle News Tribune, Peoria Journal Star and Bureau County Republican. *This case qualifies as indirectly related to American football in 2012, according to the Mueller-Colgate report at UNC.

Aug. 10:  Sherrell Smith, 18, Missouri, a receiver for Missouri Valley College, was pronounced dead after being found unresponsive in his dormitory room. August football practices had just begun on campus. Cause of death was diabetic ketoacidosis, according to the Saline County Coroner’s Office. Sources: Marshall Democrat, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and KSDK-TV.

Aug. 17:  Jason Holland, 15, Georgia, an offensive lineman for Ola High School, was stricken by a medical condition at his home, following an afternoon football practice, and died two days later. The Henry County Coroner’s Office received the case, and cause of death was reportedly of a heart attack caused by narrowing of arteries. Sources: WSB-TV, Henry Daily Herald and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. *This case qualifies as indirectly related to American football in 2012, according to the Mueller-Colgate report at UNC.

Aug. 21:  Dana Payne, 15, Tennessee, a 5-11, 143-pound receiver and defensive back for Millington High School, died following a tackle by another player in football practice at the school. Payne caught a pass and was struck in his torso, rendering him unable to stand again. Payne experienced breathing difficulties then lost consciousness. Cause of death was an attack of bronchial asthma with torso impact a likely contributor, according to the Shelby County Medical Examiner’s Office. Source: Memphis Commercial Appeal. *This case qualifies as indirectly related to American football in 2012, according to the Mueller-Colgate report at UNC.

Aug. 28:  Jonathan Vasiliou, 16, New York, a lineman for Queensbury High School, became ill, exhibiting symptoms of severe infection, about 36 hours following a football scrimmage. He died the next day in a hospital. Doctors ruled out many types of contagious infections as a possible cause, and no autopsy was performed. Sources: Albany Times Union, Glen Falls Post Star and Saratoga Saratogian. *This case qualifies as indirectly related to American football in 2012, according to the Mueller-Colgate report at UNC.

Sept. 6:  Ben Jordan, 16, South Carolina, a 6-1, 260-pound offensive guard for Belton-Honea Path High School, died of a blood clot that reached lungs, according to the Greenville County Coroner’s Office. Jordan was initially stricken by blood clots during football practice in summer 2011, sidelining him for that game season. He was cleared to return to football for spring drills in 2012 but suffered more dangerous clotting during August football camp, hospitalizing him prior to his team’s opening game. Sources: Anderson Independent Mail, FoxCarolina.com and WGOG-Radio.

Sept. 29:  Tyler Miller, 14, New York, a football player for Barker/Royalton-Hartland High School, died during sleep at his home. Miller also coached youth football. Initial autopsy results were inconclusive, and further analysis examined possibility of an undetected heart defect or other illness. Sources: Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, WGRZ-TV and WIVB-TV.

Oct. 5:  Ronald Rouse, 18, South Carolina, a 6-4, 320-pound lineman for Hartsville High School, died after collapsing during a game. Cause of death was sudden cardiac arrhythmia spurred by a congenitally enlarged heart, according to the Darlington County Coroner’s Office. Fundraising helped defray expenses. Sources: Florence Morning News, The Sporting News, WCSC-TV and The Associated Press. *This case qualifies as indirectly related to American football in 2012, according to the Mueller-Colgate report at UNC.

Oct. 7:  Jesse Watlington, 11, Florida, a middle-school football player for Southwest Florida Christian Academy, died four days after being struck by lightning during football practice at the school. Watlington was comatose in an ICU before being removed from life support. Fundraising helped defray expenses. The Watlington family has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against McGregor Baptist Church, which hosts the school. Sources: Tampa Bay Times, WFTX-TV, WINK-TV and WZVN-TV. *This case qualifies as indirectly related to American football in 2012, according to the Mueller-Colgate report at UNC.

Oct. 9:  Jason Mouton, 18, Texas, a student at Blinn Junior College, died after collapsing during flag-football practice for his intramural team on campus. No autopsy results were available at time of this posting, but a previously undiagnosed heart condition may have contributed to the death. Fundraising helped defray expenses. Sources: Kingwood Observer, Houston Chronicle, KBTX-TV and Summer Creek High School.

Oct. 17:  JheVontae Davis, 14, Virginia, a fullback and defensive tackle for Oscar Smith High School, died after collapsing during a practice session. The state Office of Chief Medical Examiner received the case, but no autopsy results were available at time of this posting. Family members of Davis said he complained of chest pain before collapsing on the football field and that an asthma attack likely contributed to the death. Fundraising helped defray expenses. Sources: Virginian-Pilot and WAVY-TV. *This case qualifies as indirectly related to American football in 2012, according to the Mueller-Colgate report at UNC.

Oct. 21:  John Bloomfield, 22, California, a 6-1, 245-pound defensive end for Sacramento State University, died of complications that began with a lung injury sustained during a game on Aug. 30. After an initial hospitalization, Bloomfield’s condition deteriorated and he was readmitted on Sept. 19 for a collapsed lung, undergoing multiple surgeries. Problems developed, such as internal bleeding, and Bloomfield lapsed into a coma. He eventually was removed from life support. No autopsy was mentioned in available reports. Fundraising helped defray expenses. Sources: Sacramento Bee, Sacramento State Hornet and AnyGivenSaturday.com. *This case qualifies as indirectly related to American football in 2012, according to the Mueller-Colgate report at UNC.

Oct. 21:  Charles, Melillo, 27, New York, a semipro football player for the Westchester Vengeance, died at home while awaiting scheduled surgery for neck fractures sustained during a game on Sept. 22. Melillo also suffered a severe concussion in that football collision. No autopsy was mentioned in reports available online. Fundraising help defray expenses. Sources: Harrison.Patch.com, lohud.com, 10-13.org and Port Chester Daily Voice. *This case qualifies as direct result of American football in 2012, according to the Mueller-Colgate report at UNC.

Oct. 24:  Jacob Siebert, 14, Missouri, a running back for Seckman High School, died in hospital of a blood clot that moved from his legs to the lungs, according to the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s Office. Siebert had participated in football activity four or five days prior to death, apparently, and reports of his sustaining an injury circulated locally. Autopsy, meanwhile, found no link to a football injury. Sources: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Arnold.Patch.com, KTVI-TV and KSDK-TV.

Nov. 4:  Alex Lott, 17, Mississippi, a baseball player for Richton High School, died two days after suffering a broken neck in a pickup game of football at the school. Lott and his baseball teammates were playing touch football for offseason conditioning when he fell headfirst and fractured the C5 vertebra. Lott immediately underwent surgery then, the next day, he suffered cerebral strokes. Sources: WDAM-TV, Hattiesburg American and Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

Nov. 7:  William Wayne Jones III, 19, Tennessee, a 5-11, 175-pound defensive back for Tennessee State University, died after collapsing during a practice session on campus without pads and helmets. The Davidson County Medical Examiner’s Office received the case but no autopsy results appeared in Google reports at time of this posting. Jones’ parents are suing the university, alleging coaches did not diligently tend to Jones after his collapse, which occurred a few minutes past 4 p.m., witnesses say. The first 911 call for Jones was logged about 4:35 p.m. and he arrived at hospital by ambulance about 5 p.m., according to a timeline of events. Sources: WSMV-TV, WKRN-TV and Nashville City Paper. *This case qualifies as indirectly related to American football in 2012, according to the Mueller-Colgate report at UNC.

Nov. 19:  Austin Lempera, 16, Illinois, an offensive lineman for Lincoln-Way Central High School, collapsed and died while exercising at home. An attending physician said cardiac arrhythmia possibly contributed in the death. The Will County Coroner’s Office received the case, but no autopsy details were available in Google reports at time of this posting. Sources: Joliet Herald-News, NewLenox.Patch.com, Mokena.Patch.com and KTBC-TV.

Dec. 3:  David Widzinski, 16, Michigan, a 6-3, 210-pound linebacker and running back for Detroit Catholic Central High School, died during sleep at his home. Heart malfunction triggered the death, an arrhythmia of unknown origin, according to the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office. Sources: Detroit.CBSLocal.com, Oakland Press and MLive.com.

Dec. 14:  Temoc Castellanos, 15, California, a lineman for Jordan High School, died three days after collapsing on the school running track during offseason football training. No autopsy is mentioned in online reports, but a previously undiagnosed heart defect might have contributed. Sources: GazettesSports.com and BelmontShore.Patch.com.

Dec. 18:  Thomas Allen, 17, Alabama, a football player for Lawrence County High School, died after collapsing while throwing and catching a football at the school. Cause of death was a heart attack, according to preliminary exam by the Lawrence County Coroner’s Office, with autopsy pending at a state forensics lab. No further information was available in online reports at time of this posting. Fundraising helped defray expenses. Sources: Decatur Daily, WAAY-TV and WAFF-TV.


Matt Chaney is a writer, editor, teacher and restaurant worker living in Missouri, USA. He earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at Southeast Missouri State University in 1985, where he played football and coached as a student assistant. His 2001 graduate thesis study for an MA degree at the University of Central Missouri was qualitative media analysis of 466 football reports, historical print coverage of anabolic steroids and HGH in American football, based on electronic search among thousands of news texts from the 1970s through 1999. For more information, including contact numbers and Chaney’s 2009 book, Spiral of Denial: Muscle Doping in American Football, visit his homepage at www.fourwallspublishing.com.

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