Friday, June 11, 2010

Being a Football Player is...?

So far in "Death in the Game" week, we've learned that hockey and baseball have both had 1 spectator death apiece and that while hockey has had one in-game player death, baseball's had two (if you count Doc Powers).

But what about the other major professional sports?

Near as I can tell, the NBA remains the only one without a fan or player fatality as the direct result of game play. (Reggie Lewis died during an off-season practice.)

The NFL, surprisingly, has a similarly clean record. The pre-merger AFL, not so much.

On October 9, 1960 New York Titans' offensive guard Howard Glenn broke his neck during a game against the Houston Oilers and died a few hours later.

Mack Lee Hill  played for the Kansas City Cheifs and suffered a knee injury in  the 1965 AFL Championship Game against the Buffalo Bills. Two days later, he died on the operating table while undergoing routine surgery for the injury. What did he die of? I haven't been able to find out. One website said "acute heat stroke". This one falls into the "Doc Powers Gray Area" even more so than Doc Powers himself, as Hill's original injury was in no way life threatening.

And yet, for all of these injuries we've detailed so far in football, hockey, and baseball, the player died sometime later at a hospital. The only actual on-field fatality I can find on record belongs to the NFL, but it was not directly related to game-play.

On October 24, 1971 Detroit Lions' wide receiver Chuck Hughes collapsed on his way back to the huddle after a play near the end of a game against the Chicago Bears at Tiger Stadium. At first, players thought he was faking to stop the clock, but Bears linebacker Dick Butkus started signaling for help. Hughes, whose family had a history of heart disease, had suffered a heart attack and died. Players weren't told of his death until after the game, the remaining minutes of which were played in near silence.

So depending on whether you count the AFL and how you define "in-game death", the NFL has anywhere from none to three.

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