BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Too many teen athletes have paid the price for the lack of protocol around heatstroke, including several right here in Maryland.
But how do you change football culture and increase awareness of exactly what heatstroke looks like and how to respond so that no other players die?
“I have been a football mom for a long time,” said Benita Meadow
Four years ago, she answered her phone to news she couldn’t comprehend. Her healthy, athletic son had collapsed at football practice at Morgan State University.
“He’s being taken to the emergency room and they were on their way,” she recalled.
It was August 10, 2014, and Meadow remembers it with painful clarity.
“When I saw him, he was completely in a coma,” she said.
18-year-old Marquese Meadow became disoriented about an hour into a practice that “was scheduled to punish certain individuals for team rules violations,” according to a lawsuit filed by his mother.
His temperature reached 106 degrees by the time he was transported to the hospital. Marquese went into liver and kidney failure and died two weeks later.
“I never, ever heard his voice again,” his mother said. “I never ever heard him say anything.”
Marquese died four years before UMD’s Jordan McNair, who died this past June.
Where was the wake up call? Because those two athletes died under almost the exact same circumstances.
McNair’s body temperature was also 106 degrees after a grueling practice at the University of Maryland.
He too, died two weeks after being rushed to the hospital.
“Four years and it’s still happening now,” Meadow said. “This should not still be happening. We should not have lost another youth for heatstroke while playing football.”
And a year before Meadow’s death, Towson University’s Gavis Class nearly died after suffering heatstroke during practice.
According to The Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut – the leading authority on heatstroke in athletes – out of all the states, Maryland is near the bottom when it comes to taking heatstrokes seriously.
Only a few states require the two measures that can save lives: cooling tubs and heat stress monitors.
“He needed to be dropped in that tank in those minutes of time to have saved his life,” Meadow’s mother said.
Since 1995, an average of three football players a year have died of heatstroke, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research.
With all those negative statistics, and her painful reality, Meadows is on a mission to make real change. Her lawsuit is settled, but her heart is not.
She can not rest until athletic programs, parents, and players know as much about heatstroke as they now know about concussions.
“It will continue to happen if we don’t fix it, if we don’t bring more awareness and have people take heatstrokes just as important as concussions,” she said. “He still lives within me and he’s telling me that I have to continue this journey.”
In 2016, Morgan State University strengthened its protocols to prevent heatstroke deaths, including 10 new ice baths on the sidelines – which players are required to get in after practice.
The University of Maryland did not have similar protocols when McNair became overheated.
The school has made changes, and following release of the report, more are in the works.