How Many People Have Died From Football?

March 11, 2024

When Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin had to leave the field with a head injury last Monday, he became the latest in a long list of football players who have experienced on-field medical emergencies. These incidents — along with concussions, catastrophic injuries (like spinal cord or brain damage) and exertional heat stroke — aren’t uncommon, even for top college athletes.

While it may seem that the sport is constantly on the edge of disaster, the truth is that most years, no deaths occur at all. But the number of deaths is still a concern, especially for parents and youths considering playing or watching football. Every fall, millions of kids, teens and young men line up to play football. And almost every year, a few people die as a direct result of the game — four direct and nine indirect.

This article looks at the 22 Division I NCAA players who died during a workout or practice between 2000 and 2018. The primary causes of death were exertional sickling collapse, sudden cardiac arrest and exertional heatstroke.

Many of these deaths were preventable. But, in most cases, the players involved were not punished by their schools or the NCAA, even though they violated recommended safety precautions that could have prevented them from dying. Moreover, coaches and strength trainers are rarely held accountable when they put the lives of their players at risk. In some cases, they are even praised for pushing their players to the limit.

Mission

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