Injured player forced to play

Forgotten tragedy — gravely injured footballer ordered back in the game

ABOVE PHOTO: Howard Glenn (66) making a tackle in Houston Oilers game.


October 9, 1960 — American football’s day of shame

Howard Glenn, New York Titans offensive guard was the only American Football League player to die from injuries sustained during a game. He had just turned 26. 

The heat and humidity in Houston were extremely high that day for the game between the Titans and the Houston Oilers.

In the first half of the game, Glenn collided with two Oilers. At the half he had to be helped off the field by a teammate. He told head coach Sammy Baugh that he was injured and wanted to sit out the rest of the game but Baugh told him to go back in.


Glenn battled on but kept telling his teammates, “I’m sick, I gotta go out,” one of the players said in an interview later.

“All the players around him urged him to keep playing, to tough it out,” the teammate said.

In those days, medical attention for injured players was practically non-existent. As one player of that era said, “If you could walk, you could play.”


Glenn played through but down in the locker room after the game “he behaved erratically, even belligerently,” according to a teammate.

Sitting in a chair, Glenn began to lose consciousness. His body twitched and he couldn’t breathe. A player shouted to the trainer, “Why in hell don’t you get a doctor in here?”

Finally Glenn was taken to a Houston hospital where he was pronounced dead. Cause of death — a broken neck.

Injured player forced to play
Howard Glenn


The tragedy happened during the new AFL league’s first year. Glenn’s death had little impact in the football world and in the media of 1960, a time when footballers were likened to gladiators in a Roman coliseum. Glenn’s death would be a different story today of course. In fact, with the medical attention given to football players these days, his life may have well been saved.

Glenn’s former teammate, the late Ernie Barnes (he died in 2009 at age 70), in an interview in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, said Glenn died “a lonely death.”

His family was devastated and many of his teammates were left traumatized with guilt for urging him to keep playing. 

Coach Sammy Baugh was the first coach of the New York Titans, compiling a record of 14-14. He died in 2008 at the age of 94.

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