As hard as it may be to believe, the 2016 football season is officially here, with players at all levels -- from youth and high school to college and professional -- putting on their pads and heading back to the field. If you don't believe it, consider that the Atlanta Falcons officially opened training camp earlier this week, while the Georgia Bulldogs first game is just over a month away.
It's important to understand, however, that just as the football season is heating up, so too is the weather, as heat indices, meaning the combination of heat and humidity, in many areas of the country -- including here in Georgia -- are now routinely in the upper 90s or even the 100s.
While this type of heat can be incredibly dangerous and even deadly for anyone exerting themselves outside, it is perhaps even more so for football players given their pads, helmets and workout intensity.
Indeed, a 2012 study from researchers at the University of Georgia determined that the number of heat-related football deaths in the U.S. tripled from 1994 to 2009, with the Peach State tallying the highest number of any state.
As alarming as this is, these same researchers also noted that the heat index has increased significantly in recent years along with the size of players, two factors that greatly enhance the risk of heat-related illness and death.
The good news is that more officials are becoming attuned to the dangers of playing football in extreme heat. For instance, the Georgia High School Association adopted extensive guidelines on the issue in 2012, requiring among other things, that the first week of practice consist of only single-session, helmet-only practices no more than two hours in length in order to give players time to acclimate to the heat.
All that being said, experts indicate that there is still work to be done at all levels of football -- particularly at the interscholastic and youth level -- to raise awareness about the dangers of heat-related illness. As such, they argue it's still incumbent upon coaches to be aware of the elevated risk of heat illness among their players, recognize the symptoms (as they are often not apparent to the player), and take the necessary action to keep them safe.
Here's hoping we see a safe football season for all players at all levels.
If you've lost a loved one due to what you believe was the recklessness of another, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional who can examine your situation, answer your questions and seek justice on your behalf.