Last Friday, 17-year-old New Jersey high school quarterback Evan Murray was hit on a routine play in the first half. But something wasn’t right. He walked to the sideline, collapsed, and was taken to a hospital where he later died. The cause was massive internal bleeding due to a lacerated spleen. He was the third high school football player to die this school year after suffering an on-field injury.
It’s a story that Brian and Kathy Haugen are all too familiar with.
Their only son, Taylor, was a member of the Niceville High School junior varsity football team. During the Kickoff Classic Scrimmage game on August 30, 2008, the 15 year old jumped up to grab the pass and was quickly tackled from both the front and back. Taylor tried to rejoin his team after he was hit, but collapsed on the sidelines. He was rushed to the hospital, but later that night he died after suffering injuries to his liver.
For the last several years, the football community has focused on reducing head hits and understanding the impact of concussions. This has led to rules being implemented to protect athletes at all levels from head injury.
But the Haugens see how those changes have come at a cost. Despite players being taught to tackle below the shoulders, the result is unintentional targeting of a chest area that is usually exposed or inadequately protected. And like with concussions, the most devastating of these injuries often happen at the middle and high school levels. Athletes are commonly taught improper techniques and lack education about the seriousness of these types of injuries.
“Injuries are going to happen in football, but it’s our job [as parents] to be proactive and find out what’s out there to better protect our kids,” Kathy says. “There’s so little awareness of abdominal injuries, but it’s happening every day. Getting the knowledge out there is just as important as the protective gear.”
After they lost their son, the Haugens decided to do something to help protect young athletes. So in 2009, they created the Taylor Haugen Foundation. It incorporates scholarship components and annual awards in Taylor’s honor. And through the YESS Program, the Haugens work to educate and outfit middle and high school athletes with protective safety equipment.
Since 2011 the Haugen’s have worked with Evoshield, a protective apparel company, to distribute gear that has better protected over 2,000 young athletes.
“A lot of people think these injuries are rare, but almost every time we talk to someone they know of someone who’s suffered from this type of injury.” Brian says. “We don’t feel like you should keep your kids out of sports just from fear of having them get hurt. But we do think you can better protect athletes and prevent these types of injuries.”
The Haugens aren’t the only ones who feel this way.
Two-time Super Bowl champion and former Baltimore Raven Matt Stover was one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history. He spent 19 years as a pro watching forceful collisions take place. And in high school, he took his fair share of hits a wide receiver.
“I knew and saw so many guys over the course of my career who suffered from tremendously painful injuries,” Stover says. “In my mind, some of those injuries could have been prevented by the right kind of protective equipment.”
Like the Haugens, Stover believes internal abdominal injuries will become more prevalent as the game continues to change. He also teamed up with Evoshield, using information he’s learned to protect his own children in their athletic careers.
Despite the loss of their son, the Haugens have remained football fans and season ticket holders at Niceville High School. But they also plan to ensure the Taylor Haugen Foundation remains a prominent voice for protection against this type of injury so that stories like Taylor’s or Evan Murray’s are a thing of the past.
Visit the Taylor Haugen Foundation website for more information about the organization and its programs.