In what should set an example for school districts, school officials and athletic coaches and trainers across the country, the University of Maryland recently accepted responsibility for the heatstroke death of one of its football players during practice in May. The university’s president told reporters: “The university accepts legal and moral responsibility for the mistakes that our training staff made on that fateful workout day of May 29.” A preliminary university investigation showed that medical personnel failed to immediately treat the player for heatstroke after he showed signs of illness during the supervised practice.
Unfortunately, that University of Maryland player is but one of all too many student-athletes who have died over the years from heat stroke, while under the supervision of school personnel. Yet, the University of Maryland stands almost alone in its efforts to investigate the incident and to take responsibility for what occurred. All too often, school districts, school officials and athletic coaches and trainers quickly come to their own defense and deflect any blame for the death of a student-athlete from heat stroke on other people or other circumstances. That is shameful.
Death from heat stroke is preventable. Many rules and regulations governing scholastic sports, and school athletic manuals, recognize this fact. Coaches and trainers must be trained to prevent heat-related distress, recognize its signs and symptoms, and treat or otherwise address it right away. The University of Maryland says it accepts responsibility for the May incident because, among other things it mentioned, those on site did not implement cold water immersion, something that is known to prevent heatstroke death. The information necessary to prevent, recognize and treat heat stroke is available and known. Unfortunately, though, school officials, coaches, and trainers too often fail to familiarize themselves with that information, or they simply do not follow the basic rules that would keep the number of student-athlete deaths from heat stroke to zero. That cannot be acceptable.