Sports at the crossroads

By Gus Bode

SIU says athletes are properly checked

In one week during 2001, four football players died in the sun-soaked days of summer practice, most notably Minnesota Viking’s Pro Bowler Korey Stringer and Rashidi Wheeler of Northwestern.

They were just four of the 23 deaths in football during 2001, according to studies done by University of North Carolina professor Fredrick Mueller. Three of those players died resulting from heat stroke, while 12 others died from over-exercise.

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The dangers of football and other sports are no longer considered myths created by over-protective mothers. The past few years have shown that these dangers are real, and they have shown to be merciless.

And the tolls are on the rise.

“For five years [deaths in football] were steady at about three or four per year,” said Mueller, chairman of the American Football Coaches’ Committee of Football Injuries. “But the last few years combined there has been around 20, and that is unacceptable.”

And although SIU has not been stricken with any tragedies, the University still performs elaborate checks to prevent one from occurring.

“We give a multi-part test,” said SIU athletic trainer Heather Ward. “We test weight, vision, for high iron levels, and do lab work. Then we do the orthopedic part, and then send the athlete to a physician.”

Ward also said that trainers are certified in CPR, First Aid, and for use of an automated external defibrillator, also referred to as AED. She said that trainers check all the athletes’ supplements to make sure they are safe and do not violate any NCAA sanctions.

While trainers can check and re-check an athlete’s previous and present conditions, the weather is something that trainers and coaches alike need to focus their attention to.

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“[Coaches] have got to know the temperature outside and the humidity,” Mueller said. “When you get them together, then they should take precautions. And if it is too hot and humid they should practice in the early morning or evening and not practice during the mid-day. “

And in this day and age of bigger being better, players are pushing themselves beyond their natural limits. And in doing so they are placing themselves at a greater risk of heat stroke and other cardiac disease.

“The fat insulates the body,” Mueller explains, “causing the player to get hotter if the temperature is high.”

SIU football head coach Jerry Kill said when the temperature is high and the humidity is up there is no arguing about how practice should be run.

“Well, I’ve been doing this a long time and I just listen to the trainer,” Kill said. “If we have to take our pads off, we do. If we have to take more water breaks, we do. If we have to go with just shorts and shirts, we do.

“I don’t balk at what trainers say.”

Mueller said that on hotter days players’ weights should be taken before and after each practice, and if the player hasn’t gained the weight he lost the prior day, then he shouldn’t be allowed to practice.

Kill has abided by what the trainers have told him and believes SIU is more than adequately equipped in the case of an emergency.

“We have more trainers here than football players.”

The Salukis’ heaviest player, offensive lineman Wesley Proctor, says he doesn’t feel at risk when he steps on the practice field. The 330-pound junior also said that when he gets tired, he is allowed to take a break.

But football is not the only sport that places athletes in risk. Studies shown by the American Heart Association last November insist all young athletes are more than twice as likely to die from cardiac causes.

One such case took place at a meet in August in DeKalb County, Ga., where 16-year-old Shai Owens died after running a three-mile race for her high school cross country team. She passed a mandatory physical recently before the race, but she had a heart defect that went unnoticed.

SIU trainers have a defibrillator in case a cardiac arrest occurs.

Another thing that worries coaches and trainers alike in cross country is asthma.

“You always run into injuries, but the main problem that occurs in running is breathing,” said SIU men’s cross country head coach Matt McClelland. “I haven’t had a player need help yet, though.”

McClelland said that coaches must be certified in CPR and that trainers always attend practice. He also stated that vehicles are near the course to tend to the athlete quickly if something happens.

Reporter Zack Creglow can be reached at [email protected]

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