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Severe heat and football

February 3, 2012 | 2:18 pm | , Deputy Communications Director / Press Secretary

© 2007 Flickr/Jayel Aheram CC BY 2.0

The American holiday known as the Super Bowl is right around the corner, so we thought this was a good time to address how climate change can impact American football. According to a blog post in TXCHNOLOGIST, climate change will have serious consequences for football in America, specifically the Southwest and Southeast.

Here’s why. As our climate continues to warm and extreme weather events become more common, droughts can parch grass in fields — including football fields — which has happened all over the state of Texas this past year. Heat waves can make synthetic fields too hot to use. But by far the most important climate impact connected to football at every level, from Pee-Wee to the pros, is the increasingly severe heat and humidity. Rising temperatures, both extreme highs and extremely high daily minimum temperatures, are making the summer ritual of two-a-day football practices more dangerous. High-school players are facing serious risks before they play a single game.

The Union of Concerned Scientists recently held a press conference to address the issue of heat-related deaths in football. One of the experts who participated, Andrew Grundstein, from the Climatology Research Laboratory at the University of Georgia, has analyzed heat-related deaths of American-style football players since 1980. Some of the findings from his research are truly frightening:

  • The death rate has increased since the mid-1990s,
  • Most of the deaths occurred early in the August practice period, with nearly 25% happening during the first three days of practice.
  • Morning practices are not necessarily safer. They are cooler but they may be more humid, which can increase the heat stress.

I love football. I am looking forward to the Super Bowl even though I don’t like either team that is playing. I will enjoy the time spent watching the game with friends and I will marvel at the athletic abilities of the players on the field. But nobody — not the pros, college players and especially high school students trying to make their local team — should face mortal danger before they play a single game.

Public awareness about the scientific research on the dangers of concussions led to reforms in how players who have suffered head injuries are treated and when they are let back on the field. We need to make sure people understand that the risks players face from intense heat will increase as our climate continues to change. We need to take action to solve the climate crisis so we can minimize the risks in the years ahead.

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