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Haunted by a Player’s Death, a Coach Walks Away From His Sport

The accumulated effect of dozens or hundreds of blows over many years can apparently leave players with many of the same symptoms seen in Alzheimer’s patients. One or two blows in a game, though, can sometimes result in death. Over the last four years, 19 players have died from brain-related injuries in high school football, according to Terry O’Neil, the founder of Practice Like Pros, a group that advocates reducing collisions in youth football.

Photo

A jersey worn by Ridge Barden, who died during a football game in 2011 after suffering a fatal blow to the head, is now kept at the home of Charles’s parents

Credit
Heather Ainsworth for The New York Times

In the days and months after the game at Homer High, Charles went from rising at 6 a.m. to waking up at 3 or 4 in the morning after having bad dreams and restless nights. He went from cheering on his daughters while they played softball to being nervous that they would hit their head sliding into second base.

“I didn’t want to sound like a quitter, but after my first year back I knew,” Charles said. “I coached 10…

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