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Top Athletes Fall Victim to Heat

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National Athletic Trainers Association, or NATA, spokesman Douglas Casa, PhD, ATC, said he did not yet know enough about the two recent deaths to comment on them specifically. But he adds that players are often reluctant to acknowledge problems with heat because they are afraid of being perceived as "wimps." Casa, a professor at the University of Connecticut, co-authored a recent NATA position statement on hydration.

"When players are fighting for positions on a team, whether it is at the high school, college or pro ranks, they don't want to appear to be wimpy because they think it can cost them their job," Casa tells WebMD. "That is why it is important that athletic trainers, the team physician, and the coaches work together and have a protocol set up that includes rest breaks and frequent hydration to deal with extreme weather. It should be out of the player's hands."

Although the most recent deaths involved a college and pro player, National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) executive director Judy Young, PhD, says high school players may be most at risk because coaches at this level may not be trained in sports medicine. She says simple measures, like prohibiting outdoor practices when the heat/humidity index is above a certain level, should be considered for high school players.

"We have advocated having at least one certified athletic trainer for each high school," she tells WebMD. "Some systems have that, but it is certainly not true everywhere."

Young recently gave a deposition in a civil case involving the death of a 15-year-old high school player in Atlanta who collapsed during the first practice of the year. The player weighed 270 lb, and his size, Young says, may have contributed to his death. That may also be true for Stringer, who weighed 335 lb, and Autin, who weighed 250 lb.

"Large players don't respond the way other people, or even other players, do when they have heat injuries," she says. "It is very difficult to hydrate them, and if they notice any signs of trouble, they are probably already in serious trouble."

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