No evidence of negligence in football player’s death, Georgia sports association says

The organization that oversees Georgia high school sports said that there is no evidence of negligence in the death of a 16-year-old who collapsed Friday during a football game.

“There is no indication of any negligent action by anyone associated with Pike County in this incident,” the Georgia High School Association said. “The coaches had taken every precaution to prepare for potential injuries and went beyond the required standards when working within the concussion protocol.”

The GHSA launched the investigation after Dylan Thomas, a linebacker on the Pike County High School team, came out of a game against rival Peach County with an injury Friday night and then lost consciousness on the sideline. He was transported to the hospital and died of a head injury on Sunday.

Dylan’s death has put further scrutiny on the inherent dangers of playing football. The high schooler was wearing a top-of-the-line Riddell SpeedFlex helmet that his parents had bought for him to prevent this exact type of injury.

“Dylan’s dad took his own money and bought an NFL-quality helmet for Dylan, because he was somewhat concerned about head injuries,” said Steve Fry, the mayor of Williamson, Georgia.

In reviewing the game film and speaking with school officials, the GHSA said there was no indication that Dylan sustained an injury in the second quarter. In the third quarter, Dylan fell to the ground and reported a problem with feeling in his leg. He was helped off the field and examined by an orthopedic surgeon and the Pike County certified trainer, the GHSA said.

On the sideline, Dylan became incoherent and lost consciousness and then was taken to a hospital, officials said Monday.

‘I want to get out there and play for him’

Residents of Pike County, about an hour south of Atlanta, held a vigil Sunday to honor Dylan at the high school football stadium. His No. 32 jersey and the hashtags #DylanStrong and #PikeStrong are evident online and around the town, including at the Papa Johns restaurant where high school students hang out.

“At times like this everybody comes together and they just wrap their arms around and try to love everyone and support everyone,” Pike County High School principal Kevin Huffstetler told CNN.

Fry said that Dylan fell off the bench while being checked on the sideline during Friday’s game. After the teen went down, he woke up, said “I can’t feel my body,” and then passed out again, Fry said.

After Dylan was transported to the hospital, players and coaches from the two teams came together and knelt to pray for his recovery, Peach County High School said on Facebook. The coaches agreed to call off the rest of the game at that point, Huffstetler said.

Still, Huffstetler said that as of now the Pike County football team plans to play again this coming Friday. Fellow Pike County player Jake Patterson told CNN affiliate WSB that he would honor his fallen teammate on the field.

“I want to get out there and play for him because that’s what he’d want for us. He’d want us to play for him instead of just quitting,” he said.

It’s unclear when the injury occurred

Coach Brad Webber said officials were not sure when or how in the game Dylan was injured. He said they are reviewing video of the game to try to pinpoint what happened.

“We’re in a constant process of evaluating the entire thing to see if we can pinpoint one area that maybe this occurred,” he said. “There wasn’t anything that really stuck out.”

In an emotional press conference, Webber said that his son and Dylan were friends and praised the teenager.

“He was an incredible young man with work ethic that you can’t believe,” Webber said. “He was the heart and soul of our defense. Just great student, great family, and the sky was gonna be the limit for him.”

Nick Burgess, Dylan’s uncle, posted on Facebook that Dylan was the “golden child” in the family who brought everyone together.

“The one that had the biggest heart. The one that told me personally he was always scared to seriously hurt somebody on the field and never thought it would happen to him,” Burgess wrote.

Game-related deaths of football players are rare, but they happen every fall. Last year, of the 4 million young people who played organized football, 13 died from the sport, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research.

Four of the deaths had “direct” causes from on-field trauma or injuries, and nine deaths were due to “indirect” causes such as heatstroke or cardiac arrest. The 2017 death toll was consistent with football-related fatalities dating back to 2000.

Professional and college football administrators have been increasingly focused on limiting head injuries amid concerns in recent years that the country’s most popular sport is damaging young people’s brains. Efforts to limit concussions and other brain injuries have found mixed results, given the inherent violence of a sport based on large, fast men and boys repeatedly crashing into each other.

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