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Hamlin's injury spotlights similar (but rare) risk in youth sports

A young player in a green jersey and white baseball pants slides into home plate, as a catcher wearing a red jersey tosses the baseball to a pitcher also wearing a red jersey.
Ernie Capriotti
Syracuse Little League
A player slides into home plate during Opening Day for Syracuse Little League in 2019.

The routine hit that sent Buffalo Bill safety Hamlin dropping to the ground made David Meluni worried about his sons. Meluni said one plays Triple-A hockey in Syracuse, and the Monday Night Football incident had him concerned for his son's safety.

“First thing that I did when the Damar Hamlin thing went down was I ran downstairs, looked at his hockey bag — and his shoulder pads have a really nice protection over his heart for a shot,” Meluni said.

Hamlin's suspected episode of commotio cordis has brought attention to blunt force trauma in other sports, including among younger athletes. The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment says while commotio cordis sports fatalities are rare, killing about 15 to 25 athletes a year, most occur in youth sports. The concern has a local little league looking to secure lifesaving medical devices for the upcoming season.

Hockey dad Meluni said he's focused on the quality of his son's protective gear.

“Don’t mess around — check your kids, make sure things fit. Because you just never know, man,” Meluni said.

But the Syracuse Little League is exploring the purchase of an automated external defibrillator, or AED, which Buffalo trainers used to help save Hamlin's life. The league's safety officer Ernie Capriotti said the incident demonstrates the importance of being well equipped.

“We’ve never had anything that was significant in terms of trauma or anything like that. But then again, that's no reason to be unprepared," Capriotti said. "So given everything that's been going on, not just in youth sports, it's something that we're looking into doing for the 2023 season.”

Capriotti said the league offers basic first aid and CPR instruction to coaches, but doesn't require they be certified.

Syracuse Little League sign-ups are in February.

Karl Winter is a graduate student studying broadcast and digital journalism at Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Public Communications, expected to graduate in May 2023. As a multimedia reporter, Karl helps produce audio and digital content for WAER. Karl moved to Syracuse from Stockton, California, and attended undergraduate college at Pepperdine University in Malibu.