At least 50 high school football players in the US have died of heat stroke after falling ill on the field over the past 25 years. And high school athletes in other sports aren’t immune to the risks — female cross-country athletes are twice as likely to suffer heat-related illnesses than athletes in any other high school sport.
The numbers are especially startling when you consider that heat-related illnesses and deaths are completely preventable.
While sports equipment has improved over time, young players and college athletes face an increased risk from scorching heat.
We study sport ecology and the legal aspects of sport. With summer temperatures rising, we believe many youth sports leagues and school districts will need to aggressively update their practice rules and heat policies to keep their players safe. We suggest paying special attention to low-income, minority neighborhoods and areas that can become extremely hot.
Heat exposure in youth sports
Every year, summer marks the return of discussions about how severe the scorching heat is. Nine of the 10 warmest years on record globally are since 2012, and this year’s late spring and early summer heat waves were previewed by what forecasters warned could lead to a brutal 2022 summer. Will be
Yet children in many interscholastic and preparatory sports summer camps work hard during the summer months, sometimes on days that reach triple-digit temperatures.
In a period of rapid climate change, it is important to ensure that heat exposure remains preventable.
Heat is the most frequent climate-related killer in the United States, with tornadoes, floods, and more deaths than cold temperatures. And the days of extreme heat and humidity are now exceeding the respective levels for human health. Overall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an average of more than 700 heat-related U.S. deaths each year between 2004 and 2018. Since then it has been some of the warmest years ever recorded, and preliminary data detailing heat deaths in the US indicates that. This rate increased by 56% from 2018 to 2021.
Extreme heat due to climate change is making sports participation increasingly challenging.
For high school athletes, the prevalence of extreme heat is increasing heat-related illness, injuries, hospitalizations, and deaths. Indeed, heat stroke is a leading cause of death in sports.
Unsurprisingly, the greatest concentration of heat illness among young athletes occurs in August: the back-to-school and back-to-sports seasons.
When heat exposure triggers lawsuits
Recognizing the warning signs can be especially challenging for children and teens. Young people are still learning how to communicate their feelings and experiences, and this may be more difficult in sporting environments that promote rigidity and assertiveness. Ultimately, young athletes must rely on adults to protect themselves.
Evidence suggests that the prevalence of extreme heat stroke among high school athletes is primarily due to younger athletes not adapting to, or physically adjusting to, the heat, especially in the first few weeks of exercise. Although heat policies relating to temperature and hydration exist at the high school level, they are not always enforced. And they may need to be improved to reflect warmer climates given the rate of heat illness.
As a result, parents and guardians are faced with how to advocate for their children.
In some cases, families have sued after heat injuries, both to recover money for their child’s suffering and to bring about change in the hope that another child will not have to suffer near others. However, the outbreak of heat wave is increasing continuously.
Adults’ responsibility for keeping children safe in sporting settings becomes blurred as increasing legal challenges related to heat illness reflect a disconnect between adults’ duty of care and the well-being of athletes. Negligence is a common claim associated with these lawsuits. Allegations of child endangerment or wrongful death can lead to civil or criminal legal disputes. But can reactive legal action prevent these heat injuries in the long run?
Due to the fact that heat injuries are preventable, legal cases alleging negligence and wrongful death are often successful. Nevertheless, heat stress, heat exhaustion, heatstroke and sunstroke are not uncommon in sports. Medical researchers have described heat illness among athletes as one of the most prominent evidence of the dangers of climate change and its impact on sport.
Climate injustice for young athletes
Extreme heat can also exacerbate existing injustices and inequalities.
For example, non-Hispanic black Americans suffer heat-related deaths at a higher rate than the US average. That’s twice as much for Indigenous and Native Americans, who report the highest death rates from heat.
For athletes, the consequences of extreme heat can further complicate environmental and climate injustices. For example, racial minorities and those in lower socioeconomic brackets are more likely to live in warm areas, including urban heat islands, where heat trapped by sidewalks and buildings can warm temperatures several degrees warmer than the city average.
At the same time, efforts are underway to diversify the sports landscape and provide equal access to sports and entertainment for all people. A vicious circle revolves between social justice – efforts to diversify the game – and environmental and climate justice, in which the most vulnerable communities face the greatest climate harm and health risks, but are few and insufficient to adapt to a changing climate. .
Sports leagues and athletes have taken a stand on many social issues, but they are often reactive when implementing and advocating for change.
For example, the league implemented regulatory policies regarding brain safety only after countless tragedies. People began to focus on traumatic brain injury and chronic traumatic encephalopathy after the deaths of several NFL players and a blockbuster movie.
The heat-related deaths of collegiate and NFL football players, particularly Minnesota Vikings player Corey Stringer, have drawn some attention to the risks. Tokyo 2020 Olympians and FIFA World Cup organizers have cited the need for regulatory changes due to the effects of extreme heat on athlete health. But it is often only after a tragedy that improvements are made to protect young athletes from heat illness.
The play area can make immediate practical and policy-related adaptations to extreme heat to protect children. These include modifying the exercise program, increasing the number of water breaks, revising athletic heat policies to reflect climate change, and implementing procedures to ensure compliance by coaches and athletic administrators.
Texas A&M students Ariana Taylor and Ashwin Matthews in the Debecki Executive Research Leadership Program contributed to this article.