Climate Change Endangers High School Football Players

Coolidge High School football practices in heat
A player for the Coolidge High School football team encourages his teammate during sprints at a preseason practice on August 9, 2022 at Coolidge High School in Washington, DC. Caitlin Buckley for The Washington Post via Getty Images
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Extreme heat and high humidity pose an increasing threat to football players with harms disproportionately affecting Black student-athletes, Sports Illustrated reports.

In the last two years, at least 14 football players have died due to heat-related causes — a number almost certainly lower than the actual total because schools have no obligation to report such deaths. While August heat affects all athletes getting ready for fall sports, the aggravating factors of an insulated helmet, 20 pounds of pads, turf fields 60°F hotter than air temperatures, the players’ size, and coaches’ sometimes toxic attitudes combine to make football players especially vulnerable.

“Coaches say, ‘We practiced in the dog days of summer. We survived; you will, too,’” Texas A&M Jessica Murfree told Sports Illustrated. “But that fails to take into account how radically the climate has changed since then.” Even more vulnerable are student-athletes at the 20,000 high schools nationwide that lack air conditioning and physical trainers. “There’s a lot of work to be done to address environmental justice issues. Looking at it through sports is an eye-opener,” Murfree said. “There are going to be areas that are under-equipped and under-resourced to meet the needs. The difference is between having an athletic trainer for your youth sports teams; and having a coach who is also the trainer and the bus driver and also is having the players over for dinner. On those demographic lines, we know which [athletes] are more vulnerable.”

For a deeper dive:

Sports IllustratedExtreme heat and heatwaves

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