Last week, Derek Sheely, a fullback for Frostburg State University (Maryland), lost consciousness during an ordinary drill in football practice. Less than a week later, the 22-year-old passed away due to head trauma suffered in the sport, according to his father, who spoke to The New York Times.
As explored in our "Knocked Out" cover story, concussions can be much more catastrophic for participants in youth sports compared to adult athletes.
In 2004, Denver-area teen Jake Snakenberg collapsed and died after hitting his head in football twice within a week. In 2008, high school football linebacker Ryne Dougherty fell into a coma and died after sustaining his second blow to the head in a month.
Both kids were later found to have succumbed to second-impact syndrome, a rapid swelling of the brain in a person who has experienced a second concussion before the symptoms of the first have gone away. At the time of writing, Derek Sheely's official cause of death had not been determined.
Chris Nowinski, founder of the Sports Legacy Institute -- an organization that's invested in studying, treating and preventing brain injuries suffered by athletes -- says that his organization has published a ten-point plan to try and save football without diluting the game's essence. This includes rule changes for helmet-to-helmet collisions, reducing hits in practice, and educating every athlete, parent and coach about concussions.
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"I have real concerns over what's age-appropriate, knowing how fragile the developing brain is. I also have concerns over what types of football are appropriate for children," Nowinski tells Houston Press. "Football is an adult game that we started letting children play and that's been an experiment. I think the evidence is starting to accrue that it may not have been a great idea."
According to Derek's Facebook account, which still existed as of the time this post was published, the Germantown, Maryland, native was a senior at Frostburg State University and worked at the U.S. Department of Energy.
One of Derek's favorite quotes, listed near the bottom of the page, was a variation of one uttered by the late John F. Kennedy: "Never pray for an easy life. Pray to be stronger men."
Update (September 13, 2011): Following an autopsy, Derek Sheely was found to have died from traumatic brain injury following a helmet-to-helmet blow in football practice.