Despite recent deaths, Nacogdoches doctors believe football is fundamentally safe

Despite recent deaths, Nacogdoches doctors believe football is fundamentally safe
Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff
Source: Laura Gould
Source: Laura Gould

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Newly released details in an autopsy now make former Alto football player Cam'ron Matthews the sixth player this year to die from head trauma.

Every Friday night, cheers can be heard in the aluminum stands as fans cheer on the hometown team - many of those cheers coming on big-time hits. However, those hits are now raising red flags with doctors.

"If the head hits something that is stationary or coming at a force equal or greater than that, then there is a motion where the brain rocks back and forth," said Nacogdoches Neurosurgeon James Randle, a Nacogdoches neurosurgeon. "The brain moves in ways it is not supposed."

On October 16, Matthews died after collapsing on the football field a night earlier.

Initial reports indicated that Matthews' death was the result of an aneurysm. However, Smith County Justice of the Peace James Cowart said the autopsy report shows he died from "blunt impact to the head."

Randle a, a former high school football player, said many of the injuries are coming from players who are not taught the proper way of tackling.

"They think that helmet is there for a battering ram," Randle said. "They think it is there to help them make a tackle when it is not there for that."

Dr. Eddy Furniss played for the Nacogdoches Dragons when he was in school and said he is constantly talking to parents who are concerned about football and traumatic brain injuries.

"Not every child is Leonard Fournette," Furniss said. "You're either 6'3'' 250 lbs and you run a 4.1 -40, or you don't. Starting at 8 years-old will really not make much of an impact in football."

Furniss said the studies and medical technology have come a long way from when he was a kicker in the mid-1990s.

"It's not old school, 'Oh I have this fuzzy headache. Lets go back out on the field,'" Furniss said. "We are becoming more aware of concussions and head injuries, much more aware then 20 years ago when I was playing football."

Randle has been involved with many concussion discussions over the years relating to football. On every Saturday in the fall, he can be found on the Stephen F. Austin State University sideline. Randle said he believes changes are coming to football that will make the game safer.

"There are helmets that are being tested right now that will be able to tell when a player has a big hit and is then sent to a computer on the sideline," Randle said. "One day we will be able to have a count sort of like a pitch count in baseball that will be put on players with hits, and then they have to get taken out. Until then, we just need to be aware and talk to the players and parents."

A movement is being put out by many in the medical community to make children not be allowed to play football until they are 18. Randle and Furniss said that won't happen, and education is the best way to slow down these injuries.

"You're not going to stop parents from letting their kids from playing youth football," Furniss said. "We can make rule changes, we can make equipment changes, and we can make the awareness there for the coaches and the people out there on the field."

"We have a strict policy of what to do right now if we think there is a concussion," Randle said. "The UIL has a in-depth system. I talk with parents and say If they continue have symptoms, and they continue to have problems then we need to sit down and have a serious talk. We need to ask if it is this worth the rest of [their] life."

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