Bobby Pope

Is football getting safer?

Is football getting safer? From the research I have done, I haven’t found one football related death in 2016.

A study from the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury research found 243 football related deaths recorded between July 1, 1990 and June 2010 for an average of a dozen high school and college players who died during practice or games each year during that period of time. The major causes of death according to the study were heart conditions, heat and other non-traumatic causes of death. Those deaths are twice as common as those caused by injury.

During the past decade or more, the athletes’ safety and welfare have become major points of emphasis. I recall when I was playing high school football — and I use the word “playing” loosely — that taking a drink of water during a practice session showed a sign of weakness. Now we know how important hydration is.

Back then, we had no trainer on staff and only a couple of high school managers — Bo Burke and Chris Greer — whose primary responsibility was to tape ankles. Bo, the son of longtime GHSA executive director Sam Burke, went on to become a doctor with his practice in Shreveport, Louisiana. Today, all college teams, and some high school squads, have certified athletic trainers on staff, and those that don’t generally have immediate access to medical personnel.

To the best of my information, Macon has experienced two deaths through the years as a result of football related injuries — one to a high school player and the other to a professional player.

Back during the 1944 high school season, Lanier’s Loyd Mote died after his spine was severed while he was making a tackle in the Poets’ 40-0 win over Benedectine of Savannah. Seeing his first varsity action that season, Mote was injured while attempting to make a tackle against the Cadets’ Sam Desposito.

Mote was hurt on a Friday night and died Sunday morning. His funeral, held at the Macon City Auditorium, was attended by more than 3,000 people, including several players from the Benedectine team.

In 2005, Al Lucas, who played his high school football at Northeast, lost his life after an injury in an Arena League Football game in California. Lucas, who was a college All-American at Troy while winning the Buck Buchanan award as the top defensive player in FCS play, appeared to suffer a spinal cord injury while making a tackle for the Los Angeles Avengers against the New York Dragons. He died on the field.

Prior to his stint with the AFL team, Lucas spent two seasons with the Carolina Panthers in the NFL.

A football related death in 1897 to Georgia fullback Richard Von Albade Gammon almost ended the sport in the Peach State. Gammon suffered a severe head injury in a game in Atlanta against Virginia and died the next morning at Grady Memorial Hospital. Following his death, the Georgia legislature passed a bill to ban the sport, which would have ended programs at Georgia, Georgia Tech and Mercer.

But Georgia Gov. William Yates Atkinson vetoed the measure after receiving a letter from Gammon’s mother asking that the sport not be outlawed. Her rationale was that two of her son’s friends had been killed, one while rock climbing and the other while skating, and neither of those sports were banned. Mrs. Gammon is considered the woman who saved football in Georgia.

There is no question that advances in equipment that stress safety, proper tackling techniques and ongoing medical advancements, including concussion protocol, have helped to make football safer for today’s gridiron heroes.

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