Football-related injuries continue to plague sport

Nathan Aquino, Staff Writer

It’s been a decade since Matthew Zaragoza Van Gerelden, a junior at East Union High School, died from fatal head trauma.  He collided head-on with with the chest of a player from Bear Creek during the second quarter of the football game.

Van Gerelden was knocked on his back, flailing his arms, and laid still under the bright lights.  Shortly after the injury he was able to tell his coaches that he was all right, but then he rolled his eyes back and never regained consciousness.

After a week on life support, Van Gerelden was pronounced dead.

Jose Zaragoza and Zona Zaragoza Van Gerelden, Matthew’s parents, decided to donate his organs; since his death, he has saved four lives.

To honor their son’s death, his parents have visited high schools across Stockton and San Joaquin County to speak about the importance of organ donations.

Although fatalities are rare in the field—12 out of 7.8 million high school athletes died last year according to HopkinsMedicine—any type of sports injury could be devastating.  It could mean sitting on the bench for a couple of games to sitting out for the rest of the season—or even worse, the athlete’s whole career.

This fall, eight varsity football players have missed at least one game due to injuries ranging from a dislocated shoulder to hematoma, a form of blood clot within the tissues.

Last Tuesday, senior Darius Livingston fractured his fibia and tore ligaments in his right ankle during practice when one of his teammates crushed his leg. He is now out for 12 weeks.

“My injury really took a toll on me,” Livingston said.  “Now I can’t play for the remainder of the season.”

Livingston and his family have created a GoFundMe page to help them pay for the surgery.  The family says their medical bills have totaled over $16,000, but they are asking for help on the copay, which is $3,660.

“I created the GoFundMe page to help my family and I pay for my medical bills,” Livingston said. “Any amount donated is greatly appreciated no matter how small.”

Each week it is hard to turn on the news without hearing of another sports-related injury or death.

In September, students returned to Warren Hills Regional High School in New Jersey after learning that Evan Murray, a senior and star quarterback, died after sustaining an on-field injury during a varsity football game.

Murray was hit behind the line of scrimmage, and laid on the ground for a minute before walking back to the bench, dazed and dizzy.  It was after Murray collapsed on the sidelines a second time that coaches, teammates, and parents noticed something was wrong.

Before being loaded into the back of an ambulance on a gourney, Murray gave the crowd one final thumbs up.  He died later that Friday night.

An autopsy revealed that Murray died due to internal bleeding caused by a ruptured spleen.  Morris County medical examiner Ronald Suarez noted in his examination the Murray had an abnormally large spleen, which was susceptible to injury.

Murray is not alone.  He is the third high school athlete to die from an on-field injury during a football game in the last month.

Tyrell Cameron, a 16-year-old student at Franklin Parish High School in Louisiana, was killed when he took a hit during a punt return.  Ben Hamm, a 16-year-old student at Wesleyan Christian School in North Carolina, died after suffering from a critical head injury.

On September 23, Camden Hills Regional High School in Maine canceled the remainder of its football season.

“This was a thoughtful decision based on a lot of factors that converged into an unsafe situation,” said superintendent Maria Libby during an interview with ThinkProgress. “I have a responsibility to be sure that we are not sending students into harm’s way.”

Over the course of a regular season, including practices, football players average 240 high-magnitude hits, according to a study done by the Annals of Biomedical Engineering.

“Nobody should play American football in its fullest, most violent form until they are at least 21,” said journalist Charles P. Pierce during an interview with Grantland.  “We won’t let high school students drink a beer, but we’ll let them entertain us by engaging willingly in an activity in which they can be gravely injured or actually killed.”