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Personal injuries are a part of sports, and players willingly accept that risk, but by taking prudent action, players, coaches, and administrators can make school sports much safer.Every sport has two types of injuries. The first is the kind that inevitably occurs when bodies are moving at high speeds and trying to occupy the same space at the same time. Whether it’s a collision in football or one basketball player jumping and landing on another player’s foot, this type of injury truly is a part of the game.

The other kind of personal injury is more sinister. It’s the type that proper coaching could prevent. It’s the type that results from coaches or parents living vicariously through their children.

For Max Gilpin and his family, a broken leg would have been an acceptable part of playing high school football. Max was 15 when he left for summer practice on August 20, 2008, and he was 15 when he died on August 23 from the effects of the heatstroke that he suffered at practice. As a result, his parents have filed a lawsuit against the coach who allegedly contributed to their son’s death by running players for 45 minutes in 94° heat and by denying them water during that time.

Football is a tough game, and bad coaches take away the fun and add unnecessary dangers, but it’s certainly not the only sport with abusive coaches. Bad coaches and their immaturity and insecurity show up in all sports, even though school districts should be able to identify them before hiring them.

Track & Field is a sport that appears very safe, but danger is always present in one event. When Kevin Dare approached the pole vault pit, as he had thousands of times before, he expected another normal jump. But this time something went wrong. He fell awkwardly, hit his head on the metal vaulting box, and died. A helmet might have saved his life, but the governing body of track & field doesn’t require vaulters to wear helmets, and now his father is trying to prevent another vaulting death.

Wrestling is one sport whose leaders have taken steps to make it safer, but it took 3 deaths to bring about the new rules. In wrestling, “making weight” is a constant challenge, and wrestlers used to make a practice of wearing rubber suits and working out in steam rooms to sweat off the pounds. Wisely, wrestling has changed its rules to limit the amount of weight a wrestler may lose during the season.

These hazards were once restricted to males. When Title IX, passed in 1972, it gave girls the same opportunities in sports as boys have always had. With those opportunities have come the same exposure to injuries that boys face.

It’s now common for young girls to play organized soccer and other sports just about every day of the year, and that can lead to overuse injuries and to more serious injuries as the girls grow older. In fact, girls now suffer more sports injuries than boys do, and girls suffer many more serious knee injuries than boys. Girls generally don’t play football, and in every other sport, their injury rates are higher than boys’.

Sports are a vital part of life for millions of young people, but until we make sports as safe as possible, we’re exposing these young people to unnecessary dangers. Perhaps this lawsuit against a football coach who contributed to the death of a 15-year old will make the safety of young athletes a bigger concern.

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Richard Alexander