by Irvin Muchnick
What happens to a college football team physician who spearheads his institution’s campaign to cover up the death of one of its players?
There’s an answer if you’re Dr. Casey Batten — the doctor at the University of California-Berkeley who withheld from the coroner knowledge that Ted Agu had sickle cell disease trait when he collapsed and died during an insane offseason conditioning-competition drill, and who lobbied for an inaccurate finding of cause of death.
The answer is that you move on to become lead primary care sports medicine physician for the Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League.
How Batten “fell upward” is the latest output of Concussion Inc.’s scorecard of accountability for the key figures in the 2014 Agu death cover-up. We are in the middle of documenting the outcomes for former deputy athletics director Solly Fulp, who today pulls down well over a quarter of a million dollars a year (and possibly much more in “sponsorship commissions”) in a newly created administrative position at a university in the midst of an historic budget crisis.
There’s also Sandy Barbour, the ousted athletics director, who simply got an even better job in the college sports-industrial complex, as AD at Penn State. And there’s John Wilton, the former vice chancellor who has maintained multiple affiliations with Cal and leveraged them into lucrative directorships of venture capital companies in South America.
But Batten, as a medical doctor expected to be guided by the Hippocratic oath and overarching ethics in matters of life and death, may be Exhibit A of this exercise.
Some campus sources paint Batten more sympathetically than I do; they describe him as beleaguered and overwhelmed by Berkeley’s all-in formula to “change the culture” under football coach Sonny Dykes, who was brought from Louisiana Tech in 2013 along with strength and conditioning assistant Damon Harrington. Dykes wanted to improve the team’s cardiovascular conditioning for his no-huddle offense, and Harrington was his agent in instilling what one player would term “down South mental toughness” so that — as another player would report Harrington taunting the athletes in his charge — rival Stanford wouldn’t constantly “have their cock in your ass.”
In the end, Ted Agu collapsed multiple times and died during a bizarre early-morning rope-pulling and hill-climbing race not found in any professional training manual. It is clear from analysis of the testimony to campus police and Alameda County that university officials lied substantively and repeatedly about the circumstances of Agu’s death. The university also withheld from the county sheriff’s office all but 29 out of 141 pages of the gathered investigatory materials.
Dr. Casey Batten was, arguably, Cal’s point person. In deposition testimony in the Agu family’s wrongful death civil lawsuit against UC, which settled this year for $4.75 million, the former county chief medical examiner, Dr. Thomas Beaver, told of how Batten made an unsolicited phone call to him, hours after the coroner began the work on determining Agu’s cause of death. In effect, Batten was lobbying Beaver.
Batten had a “preconceived idea about the cause of death,” Beaver testified under oath. Batten pushed to the coroner that the explanation had to be hypertrophic cardiomyopathy — generic heart failure — and Beaver said “I didn’t really have any reason to doubt that.”
Asked if Batten ever told Beaver that Agu had sickle cell trait, Beaver replied, “No, he did not.”
“If you’d been told that Ted Agu struggled over a period of many minutes, gradually got worse, did not collapse suddenly, may have collapsed several times until the ultimate collapse, would sickle cell trait have been a consideration at that time?”
“[W]hat I could see from reading the depositions of different players … [was] this period of decompensation prior to his cardiac arrest. So in that, in that context that’s, that is more consistent with a, a death from, from a sickle crisis than it is a death from a sudden cardiac dysrhythmia from hypertrophic myocardiopathy in my opinion.”
Following discovery in the Agu case — and in an extraordinary deviation from standard procedure — Beaver and Alameda County would change the initial autopsy finding, as lobbied for by Batten on behalf of UC, to reflect sickle cell.
Here’s how Batten’s own deposition testimony described his conversation with Beaver:
“Umm, I don’t recall that I had a conversation where we — I think we did say something along the lines of it appeared to be, but it was — I think it was — it might have been after — I really don’t recall when I spoke with him.”
Batten admitted that the medical staff knew of Agu’s sickle cell trait and that it had no input into the design of Harrington’s hillside rope pull and run, after which punishment was promised for poorly performing groups. Batten claimed to have conveyed Agu’s sickle cell information to the football training staff and to have discussed, in general terms, protocols for supervising sickle cell athletes.
Batten’s work with the Los Angeles Rams is through the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedics Clinic, an affiliate of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Kerlan-Jobe is a leading name in sports medicine. In 2009, Kerlan-Jobe paid $3 million to settle Justice Department allegations that the clinic had accepted illegal kickbacks from HealthSouth Corporation in return for referring patients to HealthSouth facilities.
Kerlan-Jobe publishes no direct contact information for media inquiries. Concussion Inc. yesterday emailed Kerlan-Jobe’s apparent contractor, Longo Communications, with questions for both Batten and the clinic. There was no response.
Batten’s page at Kerlan-Jobe is http://www.kerlanjobe.com/Find-a-Physician/B/Casey-G-Batten-MD.aspx.
“eBook Bonus: Introduction to ‘Ted Agu Papers,’ Cal Football Death Cover-Up,” https://concussioninc.net/?p=11359
“Table of Contents of the New eBook ‘TED AGU PAPERS’,” https://concussioninc.net/?p=11367
Amazon Kindle link: http://amzn.to/2aA2LDl
“Explainer: How ‘Insider’ Access Made San Francisco Chronicle and Berkeley J-School Miss Real Story Behind Death of Cal Football’s Ted Agu,” https://concussioninc.net/?p=10931
Complete headline links to our Ted Agu series: https://concussioninc.net/?p=10877