DEVAUN SWAFFORD, 21, junior walk-on defensive back with Tennessee, made a tackle in the Gator Bowl on 1/2/15 and thought he was paralyzed. “I went to tackle a guy on an out route, and I hit him, and my neck just snapped down, and my body locked up for probably five or 10 seconds,” Swafford said. “It kind of scared me. I thought I was paralyzed for a split second, but then I hopped up and went on with it. After the game I remember my neck being stiff, but I was more concerned about my head because I had a concussion.” Over time his neck healed, but in 2015 spring practice, “I took on a block like normal, like I always do, and I remember feeling this sharp pain in my neck for a split second. I kept playing, and I finished practice and went on with it. But then I got home and started playing my X-Box, and my arm started falling asleep, and I was like, ‘Dang, what’s that?’ But I still didn’t think too much of it. But then I went to look at my phone, and every time I looked down, I started feeling a tingling sensation that you get when your arm falls asleep. It was all the way down my left arm.” Swafford continued to practice and didn’t say anything to Tennessee’s training staff. The third warning sign came the following week, though. And that one couldn’t be ignored. “I started feeling that same thing down in my spine, down to the middle of the back.” Two MRIs confirmed a spinal cord contusion, a bruise on the spinal cord that could result in permanent paralysis if Swafford was hit with a certain force the wrong way. “Over the course of the next month I started doing some thinking — some real-life thinking, thinking about my future family and all types of stuff like that, and I started thinking about not playing anymore. I got insight from my parents, the rest of my family, my friends, my girlfriend, and they all told me they’d support my decision, so I decided not to play. I just couldn’t take the risk of having an injury like being paralyzed or something. That’s serious stuff…They never mentioned dying or anything like that, but they did mention permanent paralysis, and that gets your attention.”–“Swafford ‘always a Vol For Life'”, Tennessee.247sports.com 7/23/15, Wes Rucker.
ROBERT ROLL, 31, running back with Constantine HS (MI), playing in an alumni game on 7/3/15 sustained a helmet-to-helmet hit, was knocked unconscious, and suffered a shattered seventh cervical vertebra (his spinal cord is intact). Roll was hospitalized at Bronson Methodist Hospital, where he underwent surgery the next day. He’s likely to be transferred to a Grand Rapids rehabilitation center, where doctors say he’ll likely spend months working to regain use of his limbs. Roll was hit by a White Pigeon player who is several years younger than Roll and owns his own gym. Kevin Roll, the older brother of Robert Roll, said that his brother signed a waiver and there is no lawsuit pending. “It’s one thing for young kids to play football,” he said. “But when you’ve done nothing like that for a long time, and then you get out there and start smashing people, it’s not going to turn out good.” Though the alumni game has been a popular community fundraiser, there is considerable discussion about whether to continue the game.–“After devastating injury, alumni football games reconsidered”, Mlive.com 7/6/15, Julie Mack.
ISAAC REDMAN, 30, running back with Pittsburgh, 2009-13, retired on 8/22/14 due to a spinal cord injury. He was diagnosed with a concussion in Week 2 of the 2013 season and was cut after just three games. After having 2 MRIs and a CAT scan, Redman retired on the advice of Dr Watkins (known for having performed neck surgery on Peyton Manning).–“Isaac Redman retires from NFL due to spinal cord injury”, NFL.com 8/22/14, Kevin Patra.
PATTON ROBINETTE, junior quarterback with Vanderbilt, 2013-14, announced on 3/27/15 that he’s ending his playing career due to a history of injuries, including a concussion that caused him to miss 6 games of the 2014 season. Robinette started playing organized football in the sixth grade. As a high school quarterback, he guided powerful Maryville High School (TN) to consecutive state titles and a 29-1 overall record. He was the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2011. “This has been a very difficult decision to make. This team means the world to me and I love playing football more than anything. It’s been tough coming to a decision that is right for my family and I, and protects my health and future.” The 2013 SEC Academic Honor Roll student plans to enter medical school at Vanderbilt and specialize in orthopedics.–“Patton Robinette’s playing career comes to an end”, VUcommodores.com 3/27/15.
HARRY C FINNEGAN, 16, a junior playing secondary defense with South Park HS (NY), made a flying tackle, hit his head against the runner’s thigh, was knocked unconscious, fractured vertebrae and died the next day, 11/21/26. South Park cancelled its final game and the tragedy brought calls to abolish city football. Instead, Finnegan’s death eventually led to the construction of a new stadium.–“When football is life and death”, BuffaloNews.com 10/8/13, Mary Jo Monnin.
PAUL FARRELL, 17, center with Blake HS (MD), was temporarily paralyzed when he collided with 2 players during a kick return in a game on 10/25/13 and fell flat on his back, hitting his cerebellum on the ground. “Waking up it was terrible. I saw a pitch black atmosphere. I had trouble…breathing.” Head coach, Tony Nazarro, held his hand, but knew that Farrell could not feel it. He spent a month in the hospital and thought he would never walk again. He was told by doctors that he could never play contact sports again because another hit could further damage his spinal cord and result in permanent paralysis. Farrell was able to walk one month later and became an assistant coach with the team.—“Blake player learns to coach after injury”, WUSA.com 10/10/14, Diane Roberts & Allison Frick.
An unidentified 14 year-old Cranford HS (NJ) freshman was airlifted to Morristown Memorial Hospital after a helmet-to-helmet hit in a freshman game on 10/10/14. Lebanon Township police also responded. There was concern that the player might have suffered head or spinal injuries. According to game host Voorhees HS Athletic Director, Allan Stumpf, the Cranford athletic director said the player suffered a concussion, but is otherwise fine.—“High school football player airlifted to hospital after hit ‘doing well,’ Voorhees official says”, LehighValleyLive.com 10/14/14, Nick Falsone, The Express-Times.
ALEX KUNZ, with Olathe South HS (KS), in 2013 suffered a concussion in practice on a helmet-to-helmet hit that knocked him backward but not out. The next day he had trouble comprehending basic math concepts and showered himself with milk in the school cafeteria, thinking he hadn’t opened his carton of milk and it still needed to be shaken. That day he saw a doctor, who diagnosed the concussion. His mother, Barb, forbade him from ever playing football again, and also pulled his brother Andy from the Olathe South team. “The best way to ensure he doesn’t come back too early is to not let him come back at all,” said Barb. She and her husband, Ed, had their sons watch a CNN special on the potentially life-altering effects of repeated concussions before breaking the news. The special included the story of Spring Hill HS (KS) senior Nathan Stiles, who died hours after collapsing on the field during a game on 10/29/10 of a “re-bleed” of an undetected subdural hematoma.—“After a concussion, it’s unclear when—or if—high school athletes should return to action”, LebanonDemocrat.com 10/24/14, Sam McDowell, The Kansas City Star.
MYCHAL SHAW, 18, defensive end/fullback with Lee’s Summit North HS (MO), suffered a concussion on a helmet-to-helmet hit in a 2013 game and continued to play in the game—he doesn’t remember the second half. He was later temporarily unable to walk or speak and his season ended. Extreme light and sound sensitivity prevented him from attending his team’s games. Memory loss forced him to drop 2 classes and he has memory problems more than a year later. A neurologist initially diagnosed him with a migraine, his father, Michael, said. Shaw was cleared to play 5 days after the concussion, but missed 5 months. A second doctor said most of his post-concussion complications were likely caused by the hits he suffered after the first one. Shaw said, “A lot of guys want to hide it because they want to protect their pride. I’m a victim of that. I did that.” He returned to play his senior season and his mother, Ryana, led the family in a prayer ritual before each game.—“After a concussion, it’s unclear when—or if—high school athletes should return to action”, LebanonDemocrat.com 10/24/14, Sam McDowell, The Kansas City Star.
JACOB VICK, 15, sophomore linebacker with New Kent HS (VA), collapsed during practice on 10/28/13 and died on 10/29/13. He had suffered a recent concussion and sat out the previous week’s game, despite having received medical clearance to play. Vick did not play based on coach Dan Rounds’ consulting with Vick’s parents. He was freshman player of the year during the fall 2012 season. At this point researchers at Boston University had found evidence of CTE, a degenerative brain disease, in 9 college and 6 HS players, based on postmortem examination.—“Virginia Boy Dies After Collapse on Football Field”, ABCnews.go.com 10/31/13, Sydney Lupkin. The Newport News Daily Press, Marty O’Brien. “29 Fatality Cases of American Football Players in 2013″, PinkConcussions.com 2/9/14 re-post from ChaneysBlog.com 11/17/13 original post.