Let Damon Janes make a difference

Lawsuit against school districts involved in player's death reopens wounds Ð and rightly so


Sixteen-year-old Damon Janes never regained consciousness after suffering a helmet-to-helmet hit and collapsing on the sidelines last September. When his life ended, three days later, his parents’ worst nightmare was just beginning.

Damon’s parents, Dean Janes and Penny Gilbert, have every right to never talk about football again, to avoid the subject that transformed from what was likely a source of pride – Damon was a star running back – into a fount of pain.

Instead, Janes and Gilbert are taking action, filing a lawsuit against the Westfield and Brocton school districts, which ran the high schools’ shared football program, and in doing so, ensuring that their son’s death doesn’t fade into the background, forgotten amid the multitude of similar cases making headlines recently.

In the past decade, at least 25 high school kids have died from injuries sustained on the field. The concussion rate for football players in high school – 11.2 per 10,000 students – is almost double that of students on college football teams, and is the highest average by far of all high school sports (Lacrosse had the second-highest average of 6.9).

Head injuries in football – and other sports – are fast becoming an epidemic, and while the NFL has finally caved to public pressure and recognized the severity of the issue, it’s all too easy for high school football programs to avoid the spotlight.

So although a lawsuit may sound petty, and seeking financial retribution sounds merely punitive, the lawsuit filed by Janes and Gilbert is important not because of the outcome but because of the attention it generates.

If not for this lawsuit, The Buffalo News would not be running an article that details the incompetency of the school systems tasked with managing the Westfield/Brocton football team.

If not for this lawsuit, it might never have come to light that Damon was expected to continue playing after suffering one or more concussions in the fatal game’s first half.

This lawsuit sheds light on the district’s disturbingly lax outlook on player safety – despite the ongoing, nationwide conversation about just that topic.

According to the suit, members of the coaching staff were not trained to identify or assist concussed players, and in fact, there were no personnel on the field who were qualified to address any form of health emergency.

And it’s not just Damon’s own coaches and school district that failed him, but his competition as well – Portville, the home team, didn’t provide sufficient (or any) medical staff for the game, and prevented an ambulance from driving onto the field to treat Damon.

Though the allegations of the lawsuit require verification, and obviously reflect only one side of the story, these are issues that must be addressed.

The alleged failures surrounding Damon’s death aren’t just bullet points in a lawsuit.

Rather, these claims reflect aspects of the game that every high school football coach should be considering, and ensuring that their own players have access to the medical assistance they hopefully won’t ever need.

Regardless of the outcome of this lawsuit, the real priority lies in the long-term impact it may have on the game for other high schools – the true potential for victory exists in the potential to protect other students, who deserve to play football without risking their lives.

email: editorial@ubspectrum.com