The Times West Virginian

October 11, 2013

Efforts to make football, other activities safer must continue

Times West Virginian

— This is a weekend for the North Central West Virginia community to pay final respect to South Harrison High School senior Dylan Jeffries.

The 17-year-old running back came off the field and collapsed on the sideline during his team’s Sept. 27 home game against Lincoln. He was placed in a medically induced coma at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown after undergoing surgery to have a blood clot removed from his brain, but he died last Sunday night.

Visitation will be held from 2-8 p.m. today, noon-8 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday at the Davis Funeral Home in Clarksburg. The funeral service will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday at the South Harrison High School football field in Lost Creek. In case of rain, services will be held in the school’s gymnasium.

“The family wanted to afford the community the opportunity to pay their final respect to their son,” said Harrison County Schools Superintendent Susan Collins.

It’s a weekend to mark the life of a respected young man.

It’s not a time to place blame on the game of football, a sport Jeffries loved to play. We may never know if the young man had an undetected physical condition that contributed to his tragic death. There are medical privacy issues that must be respected, and sometimes there are questions that simply can’t be answered.

What is critical, though, is that efforts continue to make activities such as football and other sports as safe as possible. Sports involving impact have long been with us, and they will continue to be.

Concussions, for example, are now no longer considered to be “part of the game.”

Earlier this year, the Times West Virginian reported on the local ImPACT effort, which stands for Immediate Post-Concussion Assesment and Cognitive Testing. Athletes are able to participate in testing designed to provide a baseline of knowledge in an athlete, and then can re-take the test after getting a concussion and throughout recovery to help trainers measure how they are doing. Coaches, trainers and athletes are armed with information on how to identify a concussion to prevent any further damage to the brain.

On the state level, the West Virginia Board of Education has taken up a proposal that would require high schools to inform parents, coaches and student-athletes of the risk of sports-related head injuries and require schools to report those injuries within 30 days.

West Virginia’s Legislature, in its last session, passed a bill requiring the rules aimed at preventing youth concussions. The legislation also requires schools to create a written procedure for recognizing injuries and then clearing athletes to return to play, including the written permission of a licensed health care professional.

In college football, a rule against targeting defenseless players above the shoulders or leading with the crown of the helmet was introduced by the NCAA in 2008. Now the rule calls for a player’s ejection, something that is automatically reviewed.

The NFL, which has been fining and ejecting players over certain types of hits, reached a $765 million settlement with 4,500 former players who sued over concussion-related issues. At the same time, the book “League of Denial” has been published. It alleges the NFL failed to acknowledge the concussion issue on a more timely basis.

There has been major progress. We no longer see athletes getting their “bell rung,” getting a sniff of smelling salts and sent right back into the game.

Risks will never vanish. They’re a part of life.

More must be done, though, to enforce appropriate rules, ensure that participants are medically safe to compete and, when injured, fit to return to practice and games.