Students react to recent football-related deaths

On June 13, 2018, Jordan McNair, a 19 year-old football player at the University of
Maryland, died after two weeks of hospitalization from heat stroke. McNair, who was running
110 yard sprints by command of Maryland head Coach DJ Durkin on May 29, collapsed on the
field, and received improper treatment for his symptoms from the Maryland staff. McNair’s
death led to a deeper investigation of Coach Durkin’s abusive football culture, causing Durkin to be put on administrative leave for over two months. One day after being reinstated as the head coach of the team, on Oct. 31, Durkin was fired by University of Maryland President Wallace
Loh, who also retired from his position due to the death of McNair. Durkin’s fire was said to be
of no cause, but was mainly due to the outbreak of concern around the university regarding
Durkin’s involvement in McNair’s death.
Students all around Westminster understand and are concerned with development of
safety in such a dangerous sport as football. Junior John Guerry expressed his concerns with the
safety of the players and the measures coaches take to prevent incidents like these.
“Football is such a dangerous sport as is”, said Guerry. “It’s just so scary when an event like this happens and a kid dies from doing something that should just be fun. I hope everyone at the
University of Maryland and anyone involved in the football world is doing whatever they can to
ensure the safety of the players.”
Football players themselves have also felt the effects of McNair’s death and Durkin’s
firing. Junior Nicholas Buhay, a member of the varsity football team, also shared his thoughts on these recent-football related fatalities.
“As a football player, it’s extremely scary when anything like that happens,” said Buhay.
“I know it’s a dangerous game, but it’s a game we love, and it’s so hard to see such a tragic event come from it. Dylan Thomas’ death also hits very close to home for me personally, as it’s so close to us and honestly could’ve happened to anyone on the team here. It’s just really scary to think about.”
Dylan Thomas, a junior at Pike County High School located south of Atlanta, died from
cardiac arrest as a result of a serious head injury sustained in a game against Peach County High School. Thomas, the team’s starting linebacker, collapsed in the middle of the third quarter of the game, and was helped off of the field. There did not seem to be any apparent injury sustained, as Thomas was alert and responded to medical officials and trainers. However, after making it off the field, Thomas stated that he had no feeling in his leg. Only 7 minutes later, his situation started to drastically deteriorate, and was taken to a nearby hospital. He was then helicoptered to Grady Hospital in Atlanta, where he underwent multiple hours of surgery. He fell into a coma, and passed away the night after the game, on Saturday Sept. 29. His death was ruled an accident, and that all GHSA and Pike County officials and trainers did all they possibly could to try and ensure Dylan Thomas’ safety.Pike County, a fellow class AAA school, has greatly felt the effects of losing a beloved student, who was active in the community as a member of the class of 2020.
The death of Thomas, combined with McNair’s death and Durkin’s firing, create a
whirlwind of concern and emotion for students of the Westminster community, especially
students involved in the football program. Junior Trevor Jones, a manager of the varsity football team and avid football fan, shared his thoughts as well.
“As a manager, I obviously deal with a lot of equipment that the football players use to
protect themselves, like pads and helmets,” said Jones. And while this equipment has made great
strides in making the sport safer for the players, I still think there’s a lot of work to be done.
Football players of the past are now suffering with serious brain injuries and issues like CTE. I just don’t want that to happen to the football players of our age.”
Tragic incidents like the McNair’s death, Thomas’ death, and the brain problems of
retired football players all serve as the root for more advanced research and prototyping to
further ensure the safety of the athletes. Targeting rules instated on the high school, collegiate,
and professional level all discourage and help to prevent dangerous tackles that could cause
serious injury to one or multiple players involved in the tackle. The most recent and potential
most helpful innovation is the new VICIS ZERO1 flexible football helmet prototype, aimed to
help protect the player’s head from injury by absorbing contact and bending to protect the brain.
The columnal layer of filaments within the framework of the helmet can move in any direction
and bend under pressure, providing maximum protection for the athlete’s head. The helmet also
has a shape meant to model the shape of the human head, again providing more protection for the
While these improvements are a step in the right direction, there is still plenty of work to
be done in the field of safety in the game of football. While events like the deaths of Jordan
McNair and Dylan Thomas are heartbreaking, they shine a light on serious injuries and ailments
that can be acquired from playing the game of football. The implementation of new rules and
regulations to further ensure safe tackling and hitting help to improve the situation, as well as innovative technologies like the VICIS ZERO1 helmet. These steps in the right direction are
hoped to be precursors for a brighter future for the sport of football, where the game can be
played in a safe and fun way that prevents serious injury.