North Raleigh News

Report: Rolesville High football player Isaiah Langston had head injury five days before death

A head injury sustained during football practice caused the death of a Rolesville High School player who collapsed before a game in September and later died, according to a report by the state medical examiner.

Isaiah Langston, 17, died Sept. 29 from a stroke, caused by a clot in one of the major arteries leading to the brain. The medical examiners report cited a vertebral artery dissection, a tear of the inner lining of the artery which is located in the neck, as the cause of the clot. The dissection, according to medical literature, may occur after a blow to the head or neck.

The medical examiner ruled Langston’s death an accident. The means of death, according to the report, was “head trauma while playing football.”

Langston was hit in the back of the head during football practice Sept. 24 and had a headache for two days, according to the report by medical examiner Dr. Andrew Rand.

The teen was “held out” of practice during those two days, according to Rand.

Under state law, student-athletes in North Carolina who display symptoms of a concussion must be cleared by a medical doctor or licensed athletic trainer before returning to practice.

It is unclear if Langston, a junior and lineman for the team, was medically cleared to return to football. He collapsed during pre-game warmups Sept. 26 and was taken to the hospital.

Wake County school officials are working to determine whether Langston was cleared by a doctor or trainer, said Matt Dees, a spokesman for the school system.

Langston’s mother, Sanina Williams, declined to say if Langston saw a doctor following the initial injury.

The stroke “was almost certainly” directly related to earlier head trauma, said Bob Cantu, medical director for the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research at UNC.

The medical examiner’s report did not state that Langston had a concussion, but headaches are a symptom of a concussion.

“I can’t determine if he had a concussion,” said Cantu, who is based in Massachusetts and was not part of the investigation report. “I can definitely tell you if he had a headache, he shouldn’t have been playing.”

Safety questions

The safety of football has been a hot topic nationally, especially when it comes to head trauma.

Two other high school football players throughout the United States died during the same week as Langston, their deaths reportedly caused by head trauma.

More than 36,000 boys play high school football across the state, according to the N.C. High School Athletic Association. Football is the most popular high school sport in North Carolina.

The Gfeller-Waller Act was passed in 2011 and requires student-athletes in North Carolina to be cleared by a doctor or medical trainer if they display symptoms of a concussion. It also requires schools to distribute certain information to parents, including a form that outlines the signs of a concussion.

In addition, coaches who are part of the NCHSAA are supposed to complete a concussion training class before starting their seasons.

The act does not include penalties for schools or school systems that are found to be in violation.

Rick Strunk, associate commissioner of the NCHSAA, said the group is working to come up with penalties for schools that violate the law. The N.C. Department of Public Instruction would identify the schools, he said.

DPI found 13 school systems were out of compliance with the Gfeller-Waller Act during a survey earlier this year. Most of the violations were for not having emergency action plans posted, according to the NCHSAA.

Staff writer Tim Stevens contributed to this report.