HBO’s Real Sports Features the Real Danger of Heatstroke in High School Football

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On a recent episode of the HBO TV show Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,  correspondent Soledad O’Brien explored the dangers that heat stroke poses for high school football players. Several young players have died due to negligence and improper procedure regarding the medical treatment of heat-related illnesses. We represented the parents of one of the players featured in the story, William Shogran Jr., and what we found during our investigation left us fearing for the safety of every child who participates in an organized sport.

William was 14 years old when he died from heatstroke [https://www.gainesville.com/article/LK/20140813/News/604153687/GS/] during a practice session at a pre-season football camp. He was a home schooled freshman who was not accustomed to playing organized sports, and joined the Sebastian River High School football team as a way to obtain the physical education credit he needed to graduate high school. During the morning practice, William told coaches he felt dizzy. They helped him take off his pads and helmet and gave him cool water. But a few minutes later, when William started vomiting and having trouble breathing, camp officials called 911. When the paramedics arrived, William was unresponsive and his internal temperature was recorded at 107 degrees. William was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital. A couple of months later, the autopsy established he died of accidental heatstroke [https://www.wuft.org/news/2014/11/04/autopsy-results-show-student-athlete-died-of-heat-stroke/].

As they told Real Sports, William’s parents thought the school had told them everything that happened on that morning. But when a police report released several months after William’s death revealed key details that were kept from the family, they decided to pursue legal action. Michael Hersh, the Managing Partner at Kelley | Uustal who represented the Shograns, spoke to media outlets [https://www.tcpalm.com/story/opinion/columnists/laurence-reisman/2017/08/25/laurence-reisman-questions-alawsuit-death-sebastian-river-football-player-leads-several-key-question/595352001/]to explain the reasons behind the lawsuit. He said that although the family never thought to file a suit, “the Shograns felt that the school was failing to tell them the entirety of the story, or perhaps the truth, and so they felt compelled to seek counsel.”

After speaking with other students who were at the camp, as well as coaches and other staff, the police reported that William had shown symptoms of illness and dehydration several hours before he passed out and staff called emergency services. Students told the police that William had vomited more than once during an early morning run, and one of the coaches overheard William say he’d thrown up on a teammate’s bunk, but when the coach asked William about it, William claimed to be alright.

Furthermore, even though the school owned a portable ice bath, used to help cool down players, coaches didn’t bring one to the camp. It was never determined whether this was a deliberate decision or an oversight, but since the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) didn’t, and still doesn’t, require [https://www.tcpalm.com/story/sports/2018/06/12/fhsaa-heat-stroke-vote-no-mandate-ice-tubs-unless-legislators-say-so/690734002/] ice baths to be present during practices or games, the school was cleared of any wrongdoing. At their most basic, ice baths are big blow-up pools filled with ice and water. According to reports by the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, there’s a “100 percent” rate of survival when a person is immersed in cold water within 5-10 minutes of suffering from heat stroke.

Perhaps if the school’s athletic trainer, Hillary Lange, had been at the camp, she would have been able to recognize that William was in no condition to practice that day. Unfortunately, per the athletic director’s orders, Lange was not asked to come to the camp and was instead told to stay back at the school[https://www.tcpalm.com/story/opinion/columnists/laurence-reisman/2017/08/25/laurence-reisman-questions-alawsuit-death-sebastian-river-football-player-leads-several-key-question/595352001/].

For their part, the school tried to shirk their responsibility by hiding behind the waiver that William’s parents had signed prior to the start of the camp. We fought this in court and won. Our position was that a waiver doesn’t mean negligent and dangerous behavior should go unpunished. What happened to William was incredibly frustrating because there was ample opportunity for his life to be saved. If school officials had followed basic safety protocols, the Shogran family could have been spared this tragedy.

The CDC published a study in 2010 that revealed that football players are generally more prone to suffering from heat-related illnesses, not just because of the explosive and high impact nature of the sport, but because the pads, helmets, and uniforms make it considerably hotter for them out in the field. Something as simple as a portable ice bath, and a wet-bulb globe thermometer, which measures temperature, heat index, and the effect of heat and humidity on humans, could mean the difference between life and death for the many student athletes who put their trust in coaches and school officials every time they suit up for a game.

 

Resources:

Protecting Players [https://www.playsmartplaysafe.com/newsroom/videos/preventing-treating-exertional-heat-stroke/]- Our expert, Dr. Douglas J. Casa, explains how to prevent and treat exertional heat stroke.

Overheated [https://www.hbo.com/real-sports-with-bryant-gumbel/all-episodes/august-2019]- Real Sports Report by Soledad O’brien.