by Irvin Muchnick
Damon Harrington, the head football strength and conditioning coach at the University of California – Berkeley, is one of two responsible staffers of head coach Sonny Dykes who is named — along with former head athletic trainer Robert Jackson — in the Ted Agu family’s lawsuit against the university for their 21-year-old walk-on football player-son’s February 2014 death in a training drill.
Last week multiple outlets reported that Cal has acknowledged liability in the case, which almost certainly means that a large monetary settlement will head off a trial. These accounts also noted that Robert Jackson, the head athletic trainer at the time of the Agu death, is no longer at the university.
But in the Agu family’s second amended complaint, filed on January 8, 2015, Harrington was specifically named, in addition to Jackson, in the lawsuit against the Regents of the University of California. The complaint asserted that Jackson and Harrington, as “employees, agents, servants and/or joint venturers” of the university, “failed to take reasonable protective measures, especially with a student-athlete with known sickle cell trait.”
Further, the lawsuit alleged, Harrington “was never interviewed before being hired by Defendant. Indeed, Defendant never ascertained what his qualifications were or knowledge was in the strength and conditioning field.” (Harrington was simply brought to Cal by Dykes from their previous identical posts at Louisiana Tech.)
The complaint added that Harrington “conducted ‘punishment drills’ with the Cal football players prior to Agu’s death which were very difficult and designed to punish the players.”
In an episode on November 1, 2013 — as reported by Concussion Inc. in a series of articles beginning later that month — football player J.D Hinnant sucker-punched teammate Fabiano Hale, who was knocked unconscious and taken to the Alta Bates Hospital emergency room with a concussion. Team sources say that Hinnant was responding to a doubled-up set of weightlifting exercises Harrington had imposed on all the players as punishment for Hale’s absence from a weight session, and suggested that those unhappy with the punishment take up the matter with Hale himself.
We have uploaded a facsimile of the second amended complaint in the Agu case at http://muchnick.net/agucomplaint.pdf.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys Brian Panish and Steve Yerrid have not responded to our multiple inquiries about Harrington’s role in the wrongful death case. I acquired a copy of the complaint today after reviewing the entire case file at the Alameda County courthouse.
I am confident that when Panish and Yerrid deposit their share of the imminent Cal settlement check to the Agu family in the amount of some millions of dollars, they will brag that the lawsuit was “in the public interest.” The relief sought in the complaint included both “economic” and “non-economic” items.
The university already is spreading the story that it has reformed its football training procedures. As in: Moving forward, we will not hide a player’s sickle cell condition; nor will we punish both sickle-cell and non-sickle-cell athletes with insane drills out of some ninja fantasy novel. Those are some sweet reforms there. One of the morals of this story is that there is no such thing as football red states and football blue states — Football America is united in its determination to undermine public health and safety values.
But pardon me for observing that the changes ring hollow as long as Damon Harrington remains Sonny Dykes’ chief strength and conditioning coach. Dykes himself, who just signed a lucrative contract extension after lurching to his first plus-.500 season at Cal with now NFL-bound quarterback Jared Goff, obviously is poised to get off the hook entirely in this shameful affair.
Sandy Barbour, the athletic director at the time, now has the same position at Penn State — an even cushier job in the college athletic-industrial complex.
Robert Jackson, the former head trainer, is being set up here as the scapegoat. In 2008 he was a central figure in a similar scenario of the sudden death of a football player with sickle cell trait: Ereck Plancher at the University of Central Florida. After a jury trial in the Plancher wrongful death lawsuit, the family was awarded $10 million.
Next, Concussion Inc. will be asking the University of California about Harrington’s status.
We’ll also be seeking comment from the Alameda County district attorney. Weeks prior to Agu’s death, this criminal investigative agency “deferred” charges against J.D. Hinnant in the Fabiano Hale incident — allowing the university to impose discretionary internal campus discipline for an attack arguably incited by coach Harrington’s Neanderthal and punitive conditioning and team-building philosophy.
Published November 27th, 2013
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Published January 30th, 2016