Football Player Death Highlights Dangers

Onlookers said immediately after the tackle Turman went limp.

ByABC News
August 18, 2013, 1:13 PM

Aug. 18, 2013— -- A 16-year-old football player who reportedly had received a scholarship to play at the University of Kentucky died after breaking his neck in what was described as a routine tackle during a scrimmage game.

De'Antre Turman, of Creekside High School in Union City, Ga., was playing in a scrimmage game on Friday when he tackled another player. Onlookers said immediately after the tackle Turman went limp. Two paramedics on the field immediately responded, but Turman reportedly wasn't breathing.

Although an ambulance was immediately called, it did not arrive for 15 minutes according to bystanders.

"Time was just fading," said Glenn Ford, who coached Turman at previous football camps and was on the sidelines during the game. "It was just fading away to the point where we were just waiting and it just took a while for somebody to get there."

Turman, a 5-foot-11, 164-pound defensive back who was named the Top Defensive Back at MVP Camp, was pronounced dead at Grady Memorial Hospital.

The Fulton County Cornor's office concluded Saturday evening that Turman died due to a fractured third vertebrae from blunt force trauma.

Ford said Turman's initial tackle didn't look like anything out of the ordinary but "just a regular play."

"Football was his medicine," Ford said.

Turman had received a scholarship offer from Kentucky in June, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report.

Dr. Daniel Sciubba, an assistant professor of Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University, said that when football players run with enough speed they can become severely injured during a tackle, even if the play appears completely ordinary from the sidelines.

"It can be a very freak accident," Sciubba said. "It's just the fact that people are hitting each other as hard as they can and [the neck] area is not immobilized."

Sciubba likens these tackles that force the players' bodies through tremendous deceleration to "hitting a brick wall." Even if players are wearing the right protective gear they can still be gravely injured.

Sciubba, who did not treat Turman, also said a fractured vertebrae higher in the spine and closer to the brain and can lead to a serious injury since it can result in the paralysis of the arms or lungs.

Football has come under increased scrutiny in recent years after studies, including one from the National Institute of Health, have shown how numerous tackles and hits can affect a player's health long-term neurological health.

Football Head Injuries Increase Because of Bigger, Faster Plays

Some experts have pointed to players becoming stronger and faster and the tackles and hits becoming more violent as one reason for an increase in these injuries.

"Despite improvements in technology and equipment and modifications to rules in the game on both the pro and amateur level, there's just a rougher style of play now than in the past," said Dr. Jaime Levine, the medical director of brain injury rehabilitation with the Rusk Institute in New York.

According to ESPN statistics, from 1979 to 2011, the typical top-five offensive tackle enlarged from an average of 6-foot-4, 264 pounds to 6-foot-6, 314 pounds. From 1979 to 2011, NFL-bound centers grew from an average 6-foot-3, 242 pounds to 6-foot-4, 304 pounds.

Traumatic Brain Injury Studied with Helmet Sensors

"Size and physical conditioning techniques in sports at all levels have evolved to create an intense athlete," Levine said. "They're able to create more force, power and speed than ever before and that leads to harder hits and a greater number of hits."

According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research's 2012 Annual Survey of Catastrophic Football Injuries, the majority of catastrophic injuries for football players occur while playing defense. Since 1977 there have been 228 players with permanent cervical cord injuries on the defensive side of the ball and 55 on the offensive side.

Turman was considered a top college football prospect and had won Top Defensive Back at Atlanta's MVP camp in June.

ABC News' Liz Neporent contributed to this report.