Study finds football deadliest sport among youth athletes

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NEW YORK — Researchers who analyzed 30 years of sports deaths among youths found that football accounted for 57 percent of fatalities blamed on blunt-force trauma. Many would have been prevented if athletes with head injuries had been kept off the field.

The report, which reviewed information from a U.S. registry of sudden deaths of young athletes from 1980 to 2009, found that 261 deaths were caused by blunt trauma. The study, published Monday in the journal of Pediatrics, analyzed data on fatal injuries that occurred during 22 different sports.

Twelve percent of the 138 football deaths caused by head or neck injuries involved students who returned to the game after a concussion, researchers said. In some of these “second-impact syndrome” deaths, athletes were cleared for play despite symptoms from a previous head injury. More education is needed for coaches, trainers, parents and students on the consequences of repeat head blows, the researchers said in the report.

The deaths analyzed in the report occurred among those younger than 21 and involved scholastic sports teams as well as those in youth sports leagues not affiliated with schools. All the second-impact football deaths occurred among high school athletes, according to the report.

Increased awareness of second-impact syndrome among football players has led 21 states to enact laws that pull student athletes from a game after a head injury and set procedures for allowing them to safely return, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than 90 percent of the football deaths analyzed came from head and neck blows that led to subdural hematoma, the accumulation of blood within the cranium shutting off vital functions. Ten of the deaths were the result of helmet-to-helmet blows, the study found.

Running back was the single most deadly position in football, with 33 deaths in 30 years. Sixty-nine deaths occurred among defensive players, according to the report.

Among the 22 sports analyzed, track and field was the second-most deadly sport with 27 fatalities, primarily from pole vaulters falling outside the padded landing area. Batted balls were the primary reasons for 16 trauma-related deaths in baseball. Boxing claimed 12 lives.