By Dr. Ken


On Sunday, April 10, 2005, my wife and I were glued to the television set as we watched our favorite Arena Football League team, the New York Dragons, play the Los Angeles Avengers. The time difference on the Pacific Coast and the telecast of the Colorado Crush game on NBC as the national AFL telecast, bumped the Dragon vs. Avenger game to the Fox Sports local affiliate with a one hour broadcast delay. This was fine with us as we enjoyed two games and settled in to see what we hoped would be a typically exciting AFL Dragon contest. My son Gregory who is the quarterback coach of the NFL’s Houston Texans is not quite sure why my wife and I are enamored of Arena football. As he said at one time “You can’t look at it like regular football. If you were a D-coordinator, you would slit your wrists after every game.” Well, we view it as a game that is very different from NFL or collegiate football, “outdoor football” as the AFL announcers refer to the other game and we enjoy it as a positive and refreshing way to get through baseball, basketball, and hockey season, any sporting season that does not display football. As season ticket holders to the Dragons games, we enjoy the time together and cheering for athletes who play for the love the game. 

As we watched the game unfold, we were shocked to view a Dragon kickoff return. Al Lucas of the Los Angeles Avengers, a player who was with the Carolina Panthers when my son Gregory coached on the Panther staff and whom I was very much aware of as a well liked and highly respected player in both the NFL and in the Arena game, attempted to make the tackle on Corey Johnson of the Dragons. Even at full game speed, and perhaps because of my professional interest in neck injuries and the ongoing series written for HELMET HUT, it was obvious that Al ducked his head at the moment of impact. My wife looked at me as Mr. Lucas rolled off the pile and lay motionless and said, “Oh my God, I know this is bad.” It was worse than that, it was a horrible, tragic incident and Mr. Lucas was pronounced dead shortly afterward. As upset as every fan, teammate, official, and caring person was by this tragedy, my son was truly moved. He knew Al and liked him a lot, telling me what a wonderful person he was. This brought the tragedy even closer to home for me.  

If you read the series on head and neck injuries and on helmet safety, you know that the helmet does an excellent job of protecting the head. It is not designed to nor can it protect against neck injuries caused by axial compressive loading if the factors that produce excessive force are present. When Al dropped his head, the normal cervical Lordosis, the normally occurring curve in the neck that dissipates force with controlled motion, was lost, straightened so that each disc and each individual vertebra or bone in the neck now had to try to absorb and dissipate the force as a segmented, individual unit. The autopsy results, eight days after the accident when this is being written, have not been released pending tissue toxicology results. Having worked in the New York City Medical Examiners office as a much younger man, I can say that no cause of death will be stated until every test result is completed and reported. However, I would be surprised if the assumed cause of death, a spinal cord injury, no doubt caused by either a shearing or crush mechanism was not the cause of Al’s death. That his fatal tackle proved to be a textbook case of creating a potentially damaging, and in this case perhaps fatal chain of events, should be a stimulus for a review of the entire HELMET NEWS series, especially for those still playing, coaching, or officiating football or those who have sons or relatives doing so.  

I have been saddened perhaps more than others, especially other casual onlookers because of my son’s personal relationship with Al, the fact that he was obviously such a positive role model and true team player and friend, and because I know that there is a strong likelihood that this, like other catastrophic head and neck injuries, was avoidable. I am hoping that what is learned from this tragic incident can save others from any degree of injury.