Everything we do every day has the potential to be dangerous. We often ignore the risks because there’s little that we can do to reduce or eliminate them.
For millions of teenagers, that risk comes from participating in sports activities. Recent news stories have detailed events leading up to the unexpected deaths of three students had nothing and everything in common.
Ridge Barden, who had just celebrated his 16th birthday, played football for a high school in Phoenix, N.Y. During the third quarter of a game a few weeks ago, he took a hit that left him stunned, face down on the field. He was able to sit up, but he complained of a bad headache. He collapsed when he tried to stand. As he was being transferred from one hospital to a larger medical center in Syracuse, his condition deteriorated and he died.
Reggie Garrett also collapsed at a football game, this one last year in Texas. The high school senior had just thrown his second touchdown pass. He ran off the field and seemed totally fine. But moments later fellow players alerted coaches that Reggie had fallen to his knees and then onto his side. He was taken by ambulance to an area hospital but later died.
It’s not just players on the field who face risks. Angela Gettis, 16, passed out on the sideline of a high school football game in Los Angeles. The cheerleader collapsed without warning and was rushed to a hospital where she died about three hours later, reportedly from sudden cardiac arrest.
Each of these three teens had a parent or guardian who gave permission for them to participate in extracurricular activities.
One of the reasons that parents are asked to sign such waivers is because the risk of an accident is always present.
Since 1977, the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has studied catastrophic injuries in football, everything from fatal incidents to collisions that cause concussions.
Until relatively recently, concussions were often under-diagnosed and under-treated. Players and coaches questioned whether an injury could exist if you couldn’t see it. However, science has now proven that sitting out due to a concussion is not a sign of weakness.
Concussion symptoms include everything from depression, poor concentration and headaches to nervousness, vomiting and irritability. (Of course, if someone hit me so hard that I had a headache and wanted to vomit, I’d probably be a little irritable, too.)
Despite my joke, concussions are no laughing matter. Neither are the injuries that are easier to diagnose.
Since 1977, more than 300 high school and college football players suffered spinal cord injuries and never fully recovered, according to the Department of Exercise and Sport Science.
The good news is that improved equipment and stricter rules have resulted in a reduced number of serious injuries; presently, less than one injury a year for every 100,000 players.
Despite the pain, Jacqueline Barden, Ridge’s mother, has spoken out with a message to her son’s teammates and those who played on the field opposite him. She wanted them to know that what happened wasn’t their fault. She said that it was an accident, and that her son would feel the same way. Even more, even after what happened, she couldn’t imagine taking football away from her son.
A mother to the end, Barden protected her son’s passion and stood up for him despite the worst.
We should all be proud.