Derek Sheely, a 22-year-old fullback playing for Frostburg State University in Maryland, died on Sunday, a week after passing out during a routine practice. He did not have a heart condition or any other chronic disorder. Although his father doesn’t know exactly what happened, he asserts that Derek died of severe head trauma.
According to an article in The New York Times, the university disagrees:
Liz Medcalf, a spokeswoman for Frostburg State, said Sheely had been participating in “regular drills” with his teammates Aug. 22 when he began feeling woozy. He was being helped off the field when he collapsed.
Every year, two to five high school football players died as a result of on-field brain injuries. According to research by the University of North Carolina National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, teenagers are more susceptible to brain injury from multiple hits to the head—a condition known as second impact syndrome. That’s because their teenaged brains are still developing. In a young man of Derek Sheely’s age, second impact syndrome is quite rare, which is why the university doesn’t believe that the cause of death was head trauma. According to The New York Times:
Sheely was first taken to the emergency room at Western Maryland Regional Medical Center in nearby Cumberland and was later transferred to the shock trauma center in Baltimore when the severity of the injury was recognized. He was listed in critical but stable condition last Wednesday after multiple operations, according to hospital officials. But the pressure in his brain from swelling could not be alleviated.
Derek’s father says that he needs to find the cause of his son’s death…not to find a place to lay blame, but to make sure that other young men don’t have to die.
“We’re not blaming anybody; that isn’t our mission right now. But hopefully, somebody does make sure that if there’s a lesson to be learned and it can help protect somebody else, then that should be done. I wouldn’t want my son to just die in vain, and if something can be made better, through education or equipment or whatever it is, that would be helpful.”