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Steinberg: Be aware of dehydration

February 16, 2013|By Leigh Steinberg

Louisiana swelters in the summer. August is the most intense month, with enervating heat and humidity.

Athletes treat admonitions to hydrate well the way we all viewed our mothers' stern warning to stay out of the water for an hour after eating — with surface acquiescence and extreme skepticism.

In dozens of cases in the last 30 years athletes have died of dehydration. Henry White was a 21-year-old junior basketball player getting ready for his first season at Grambling State University. On Aug. 26, 2009 he showed up for the earliest conditioning workouts. He spent a rigorous session weight lifting. He then was punished for showing up to campus late by being forced to run four and a half miles on an a day in the heat and humidity of August in Louisiana. He collapsed upon finishing, and he died 12 days later.

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An idealistic young attorney named Scott Chafin from Shreveport, La. called me a year ago to ask if I would be an expert witness in a lawsuit asking Grambling State for compensation for wrongful death. Henry had left a young son. My role would be to project what his earning curve would be had he lived and played professional basketball at any level, been involved in television commentary, or worked in his field of criminal justice.

I generally shy away from such testimony. There are many faults with the entire tort system; there should be a better way of compensating victims and punishing wrongdoers. But when the case is particularly worthy and makes a larger point about reform, I have agreed. I testified as an expert for the wrongful death trial that involved my client Derrick Thomas, who later perished of injuries he sustained in an automobile accident when his car flipped over on an icy freeway.

I testified for my friend Merlin Olsen, who died of cancer caused by exposure to mesothelioma. Each of those cases involved safety issues, and the chance for better prevention, as death from dehydration does.

Athletes at the professional, collegiate and high school levels train and work out every summer with a risk of dehydration. Signs of dehydration include fatigue, flushed skin, heat intolerance, light-headedness and dark colored urine. Fluid is lost and also chemicals like sodium and potassium. Too little or too much electrolytes like sodium and potassium in the body can cause trouble. Consumption of beverages containing electrolytes and carbohydrates can help sustain fluid-electrolyte balance and exercise performance.

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