FanDuel - WFBC

September 29, 2009

High School Player Dies After Hard Tackle: A high school football player in Spokane, Wash., has died from severe brain swelling after hitting his head while being tackled in a game Friday. Drew Swank, 17, was returning a kick Friday when injured. He left the field on his own, but became nauseous and lost consciousness. His family discussed his decision to donate his organs.

posted by rcade to football at 04:08 PM - 34 comments

Gut-wrenching. Things like this make it so hard for me to love football.

A school district in Maryland now screens its athletes before athletic events, so they can easily diagnose a concussion and know when it has fully healed.

posted by bperk at 04:34 PM on September 29

Wasn't this very scenario discussed on here a few weeks ago?

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posted by Drood at 04:51 PM on September 29

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posted by tommytrump at 05:01 PM on September 29

I live a few miles from Valley Christian. My kids don't go to the same school, but my deepest sympathies go out to Drew's family.

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posted by THX-1138 at 05:46 PM on September 29

How awful.

Not to ignite a controversy, but how do the parents (or those who may be parents in the future) on SportsFilter feel about their children playing football? My sons are very young, but I have a feeling at this point that while I may not come right out and forbid my kids from playing football when they come of age, I will, at a minimum, strongly encourage them to engage in other same-season sports (to the extent they are into sports -- one of them has chess club/band written all over him). For what it's worth, I did not play football growing up, so perhaps that influences my thinking.

posted by holden at 06:34 PM on September 29

I have three kids. 8, 4 and baby. The eldest seems to like football, but I think at this age, I'd let him play, but once it gets to mid teens, I wouldn't want him too. Of course here a more traditional path would be hockey, but even that I don't think I want him playing. If he wants violence in his sport, he can go learn martial arts, boxing etc... Though my wife has already dismissed the latter. (Unsurprisingly.)

Though the truth is none of my kids are really into sports. In fact the only sport they've probably be interested in is racing. Possibly soccer. They're just not that into sports.

posted by Drood at 07:33 PM on September 29

A school district in Maryland now screens its athletes before athletic events, so they can easily diagnose a concussion and know when it has fully healed.

Around my district, programs like that aren't really all that uncommon. We use the same program at our school. Not a bad idea to put it on our website.

posted by jmd82 at 08:59 PM on September 29

Despite all the health risks, if I had a kid who really wanted to play football and had the ability to do it, I'd let him (or her?). While it is, of course, an especially risky sport, if they really love it, I'd support it.

Of course, this is easy for me to say because my wife would forbid it and I'd back her up because that's how she and I roll.

Furthermore, I support any parent that wants to keep their kids out of football 100%. That's their right.

All that said, sincere sympathy to Drew's family, friends and teammates. His family's willingness to discuss organ donation so soon after his death speaks volumes to the quality of Drew's character - indeed, his whole family's character. Very tragic.

posted by Joey Michaels at 09:06 PM on September 29

I would hate for my kids to play football. I think the sport's too dangerous at the high school level and upward.

That's not a statement on this particular incident. Fatalities are extremely rare in football, but concussions are not.

posted by rcade at 09:16 PM on September 29

I'd let my son play if he expressed an interest. I played hockey, soccer, and baseball, but never football; I was always impressed by youth football programs. I understand that there are very real risks involved in the game, and not just the risk of a horrible tragedy like this happening. There's blown out knees, broken bones, and thousands of other things that can go wrong. I think those risks are outweighed by the discipline and character that are taught as part of the game. To keep it short, the rewards greatly outweigh the risks, IMO.

To put it in a different perspective. Look at the incredible prevalence of teen driving accidents. With that in mind, do parents still allow their children to drive? Of course. Many of the things that are part of the normal maturation process present risks. Football can at least develop some important character and physical traits along with those risks.

posted by tahoemoj at 09:24 PM on September 29

Despite all the health risks, if I had a kid who really wanted to play football and had the ability to do it, I'd let him (or her?). While it is, of course, an especially risky sport, if they really love it, I'd support it.

Exactly.

Drood - Why would there be any less risk in the alternative sports you mentioned? MMA, boxing, racing all have deadly risks associated with their sports at almost every level of competition.

In fact the only sport they've probably be interested in is racing. Possibly soccer. They're just not that into sports.

The apples don't fall far from the tree :)

posted by BoKnows at 09:25 PM on September 29

MMA, boxing, racing all have deadly risks associated with their sports at almost every level of competition.

What was the average lifespan of professional level line of scrimmage players? 56? I think the average MMA or race driver manages a bit more than that.

posted by rodgerd at 10:56 PM on September 29

MMA, boxing, racing all have deadly risks associated with their sports at almost every level of competition.

I can't speak to boxing and racing, but I'm somewhat versed in martial arts, and I never saw many teenagers involved in MMA like we see it. It's usually Tae Kwon Do or some form of non INSANE CONTACT martial art class, where form is taught first, followed by sparring with pads and strikes to the head strictly forbidden.

posted by jmd82 at 11:04 PM on September 29

You know, for all the talk of "character" in football, there seem to be a lot of football players who are not particularly nice characters. Maybe that's just the pros. Or maybe the character that is developed on the field by exercising until you vomit, being called a "pussy" by the coaches, being treated as an expendable piece of meat, and being drilled in rote repetition of plays which someone else designs and dictates, is the same kind of character that makes the players assholes off it. Everyone has character, the question is, do they have good character? I don't think a case can be made that football is any better for character than any other sport or structured activity, though I am happy to listen to one. And if it is no better, then why risk these levels of brain damage and serious injury?

Bottom line: no way would I let my kid play football. it's not the danger per se, it is the structured delegation of danger and the industrialization of creative talent which bother me.

I did kick ass in the spofi football pool last week though, 13/16!

posted by rumple at 11:56 PM on September 29

Stories like this one make me sick. My 7 yr. old son just started playing Atom (7-10 yr. olds) level football this year. He loves it. I like it too, as it is great watching him play. At this point, I don't think I would encourage him not to play at any age, but none the less, this story makes me queasy.

posted by Miles1996 at 11:59 PM on September 29

Assessing some sports' risks objectively is just good parenting and an absolutely necessary exercise to ensure the long term health and overall life prospects of their children.

Its uplifting to read these posts evidencing realistic concerns by parents.

posted by Plaintruth at 01:02 AM on September 30

I have a daughter, so her playing football is not much of an issue. Still, when we watch football, I tell her how hard they are hitting one another and that their brains sometimes rattle around in their head and can turn their brains to mush. Playing football doesn't sound so appealing after hearing things like that.

posted by bperk at 09:30 AM on September 30

My son plays high school football, as did I, and I far more worried about him when he's driving than I am when he's playing football.

I tried to get him more interested in la crosse, he just wasn't having any of it.

He's not good enough to make it to a college team, so it looks like I have a year of it left.

every sport has injuries, most have the possibility of death, so I think one just needs to monitor it. Local boy died while skateboarding a few months ago, so maybe my son is safer in sports than if he were hanging out.

posted by dviking at 09:33 AM on September 30

Riding a bike is an activity in which thousands and thousands of kids die every year. And thousands and thousands more are seriously injured. But I doubt that we will be tossing our kids' bikes into the trash.

When a kid dies participating in an activity that they love it is devastating. But would it be equally devastating to the rest of their lives to have not participated at all? Life is going to be risky. But it is also to be enjoyed.

I realize that this butts up against the argument I made a while back against parents getting involved in thrill sports like BASE jumping when their death would leave behind their children. But I think that football has so many more positives going for it that the number of people that die taking part in it is no greater than most other activities.

posted by THX-1138 at 11:30 AM on September 30

My wife and I were just talking about this. Our 9-yo son is playing in the NFL Flag Football league for the third year, and he's a bit bored. He says he's ready for tackle.

I've taken him to Big 10 and some high-caliber FCS games, and while he was awed by the size, speed, and power of the players, he didn't really grasp the danger inherent in these guys running into each other time and time again. But my wife and I both winced when we saw safeties barrelling into receivers. Just imagining our kid getting hit like that makes my hair stand on end.

That said, I'm going to allow him to do the Pop Warner/junior high thing and see how it goes. I'm not ruling out any possibilities in any direction.

posted by Uncle Toby at 11:45 AM on September 30

I have to disagree a bit with the "injuries happen in all sports" argument. Seems to me that hard hits are part of normal play in football: they're not just incidental, they're what happens when everything goes right. I don't think you can really point to another youth sport, except maybe hockey and maybe boys' lacrosse, where that's the case.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 12:29 PM on September 30

Do high school players provide their own equipment, especially helmets? Or is it standard issue stuff? If the schools provide it I would be worried about them cheaping out.

Agreed totally with devastating hits being part of the intended process in football, they are coached, they are encouraged, they are executed, and they often go terribly wrong.

Hockey I think as I noted somewhere else has taken real steps, effective ones, to reduce concussion particularly in the wake of the Lindros case and the attendant finger being pointed at the team culture, the training staff, etc. Lindros got nailed by a few borderline hits that were probably clean then, but would be considered dirty now. At the very least, Hockey recognised that it had a problem. with the Steve Moores of the world taking dirty cheap elbows to the head of Nazzie, who was never the same player after that

posted by rumple at 01:16 PM on September 30

Do high school players provide their own equipment, especially helmets? Or is it standard issue stuff? If the schools provide it I would be worried about them cheaping out.

Schools I've worked at, the school typically provides the equipment, though students also pay an athletics fee to help cover the costs (this is from private schools).

posted by jmd82 at 02:21 PM on September 30

When our son played HS football, all of the parents in attendance sat together in the stands. Whenever a player on either team went down, you could feel the collective tension among us and the collective sigh of relief when the injured player got up. It's a rough sport; we can all agree on that. There are rules in place to try to prevent things like this from happening, but there will always be something unforeseen or completely accidental.

I'm of the school of thought that says you don't outlaw football just because of the danger. Rather, you continue to learn from every tragedy and near-tragedy to try to make things better. I mentioned the feelings of the parents in the stands. When our son first got his license and began driving, the same feeling was there. He learned more and more every time out, and eventually we began to accept it. I still worry a little bit when he makes the 450-mile trip back and forth to Penn State, but I also retain my faith that I will be able to deal with whatever happens.

None of this makes it any easier to deal with the death of a young person. I don't have all the answers, and neither do most of us.

posted by Howard_T at 04:34 PM on September 30

Seems to me that hard hits are part of normal play in football: they're not just incidental, they're what happens when everything goes right. I don't think you can really point to another youth sport, except maybe hockey and maybe boys' lacrosse, where that's the case.

Rugby (league and union) and Aussie Rules both spring to mind as high-contact sports, and Union especially can have players of quite disparate sizes coming into contact. Union scrums are also extremely technical, high-risk affairs; the substitution rules have provisions for replacing front-row forwards precisely because playing at prop or hooker without understinding what you're doing, and the muscle to protect your neck, is a great way to end up with a spinal injury.

One of the things I dislike in Union and League is the enthusiasm for off-the-ball violence. It's one thing to go out expecting to hit and get hit in the tackle, for example; the tolerance many fans and players have for throwing punches (for example) leaves me unimpressed. If I threw a punch when doing Judo... well, I don't actually know what happens because I've never seen it at a tournament. I'm sure it has, but those sort of rule breaches aren't even really discussed, since it's so rare. I'm pretty sure my club would tell me not to bother coming back if I cut loose in a fight and started punching people, though.

posted by rodgerd at 05:37 PM on September 30

Wasn't this very scenario discussed on here a few weeks ago?

Yes it was and I got a lot of flack for dissing Tom Brady's comment that the players in the NFL were getting so big and fast that someone was going to die. I mentioned that people have died and will continue to die, and it has very little relevance to the size and speed of the players. It is the nature of the sport like so many others. The actual risk is much higher when the players are not of the size and speed of the pros. In high school football there is a much larger disparity in the size, speed and skill levels of the players. It is possible to have players that have pro potential playing against barely competent players. My whole point was that the NFL is probably a safer place to play. Bradys statement was dramatic but not really accurate in reflecting the danger. All football is dangerous as are a million other sports. This is a tragedy but no reason to focus on football as this kind of thing can happen, anywhere, anytime while doing anything.

posted by Atheist at 05:45 PM on September 30

dissing Tom Brady's comment that the players in the NFL were getting so big and fast that someone was going to die

Carson Palmer. Our Tom would never be so dramatic.

posted by yerfatma at 07:03 PM on September 30

Rugby and Aussie League are different though, in that the players don't wear as much padding and don't wear helmets (well some wear some minor leathery helmets). American Football fetishizes the torpedoing, head first hit and by protecting the players so much they make it possible. In rugby, the tackler is always aware they may come off the worst if they don't follow proper technique, and proper technique ends up being safe technique.

A little punch up seldom hurts anyone beyond a black eye or a cut lip but I hear what you are saying. Even with American football, if you were likely to have to punch it up with the opponent if you delivered an unsafe hit, then I suspect that alone would be a safety improvement. Believe it or not, that is one of the reasons fighting in hockey exists (outside of the staged kind) - it is a form of direct social control. In football, with its hierarchical structure, there is no social control enactment by those with the most to lose.

posted by rumple at 08:34 PM on September 30

Fatalities are extremely rare in football, but concussions are not.

And concussions are all over the news these days, with links to dementia and a progressive brain disorder that turns you into a drooling, diapered idiot. I have watched a lot of football so far this season, and maybe I'm getting older, but the hits seem a lot harder and the play a lot wilder than previous years. I really don't want to see another player killed or injured for life, so as much as I love football, I am considering cutting back a lot on my viewing.

posted by irunfromclones at 11:47 PM on September 30

My apologies it was Carson Palmers comment that I was referring to.

posted by Atheist at 11:29 AM on October 01

American football
Heh.

I really don't want to see another player killed or injured for life, so as much as I love football, I am considering cutting back a lot on my viewing.

That's good, people who are squeamish about the violence in football probably shouldn't watch it. Stick to the golf telecasts, old bean.

If you're scared of getting hurt, this is not the game you want to play, and if you don't enjoy the specter of one player bringin' the wood to an opponent it ain't the game you wanna watch.

Unfortunately, these accidents occur every year, but it wouldn't be American football if we started wholesale rule changes that minimize the amount or the magnitude of the collisions in the sport.

posted by mjkredliner at 11:53 AM on October 01

I disagree with the idea that it stops being football when rules are changed to minimize the impact of collisions. The game's changed many times over the decades for exactly that purpose. This season in the NFL and college, there's a new emphasis to cut down helmet-to-helmet hits and hits on "defenseless" receivers.

posted by rcade at 11:58 AM on October 01

We can all agree that helmet to helmet hits are dangerous.

Suggestion: Go back to the days of leather or no helmets, then the players will return to the fundamentals of tackling.

Of course, painting logos on the ears of some of them boys may be hard.

posted by mjkredliner at 12:05 PM on October 01

I'm all for violence in sports, but at least in hockey you can outlaw hitting and fighting until the kids reach higher levels. It's anciliary to the game. It's not the point of the game.

Without resorting to touch-only-no-tackle, I don't see how one can do the same with football.

However, the evidence is pretty clear at this point that playing football has a greater likelihood to result in both short and long-term brain injuries, physical injuries and premature death - then, say, playing virtually every other sport. The only other one I can think of is boxing.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 05:48 PM on October 01

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