In the fall, in many communities “Friday night lights” reign supreme. Locals come together for the time-honored tradition of high school football and cheer on their home team. For some of these teens, character is built, win or lose. For others, futures are forged, if their football-playing abilities enable them to attend college on a scholarship and further their education. But for one Pike County, Georgia teen, the Friday night lights were forever extinguished last week. Sixteen-year-old Dylan Thomas sustained a severe traumatic brain injury during a normal game, and succumbed to his injuries on Sunday, losing his life.
When I read about Thomas’s story tonight, it hit me hard, in part because I have just recently written an article about another young football player who lost his life, his family believes, as the result of a traumatic brain injury he received during a football game. Only in the case of this young man, who was 13 when he died, his traumatic brain injury caused mental health problems that led him to die by suicide, rather than killing him immediately. Still, his death was tragic and preventable, as was Dylan Thomas’.
Local news station FOX 5 reports that Dylan Thomas was playing for the varsity football team against rival Peach County high school when he was hit in the second quarter. Though Dylan soon returned to play in the game, he did not play for long. His uncle told the news station that while he was sitting on the sidelines, his arm and leg went numb and then he collapsed. He was soon airlifted to Grady Memorial Hospital where he had two surgeries to relieve the swelling on his brain, but nothing more could be done, and on Sunday evening Dylan passed away from his traumatic brain injury.
Let me just say that after having written these two articles about traumatic brain injury in young football players in just a couple of weeks time, I am extremely thankful that my teenage son has never expressed a desire to play football. Although I know these two cases are extremes, I still ask myself “Is it worth it?” and “What can be done to better protect our young football players?”
I don’t have those answers but in honor of Dylan Thomas, if your child plays football, I do ask that you take a long hard look and make sure that everything possible is being done to keep them safe from massive hits resulting in a traumatic brain injury like the one Dylan suffered. In Dylan’s case, those Friday night lights turned to Saturday’s candlelight vigil, then tragically Sunday night the flame went out forever. It’s a terrible tragedy to lose a high school junior to a game like this when he and the other players really had no idea exactly how high the stakes were.
The Pike County community has rallied around the Thomas family, raising over $37,000 for them in just a few days to cover hospital bills and funeral expenses for their beloved son. Let’s also surround them with our prayers as well, and if you’re a parent of a football player, please honor Dylan’s memory by going to extreme safety measures for your own child.