Why I’m Fighting For More Public Records in the Scandal of Ted Agu’s 2014 Death in Cal Football

Whitewash 2.0: Cal Rolls Out Fresh-Scrubbed ‘Independent Review’ of Football Conditioning Program Where Assault and Death Occurred
November 9, 2016
R.I.P. Leonard Cohen
November 10, 2016

Concussion Inc.’s ebook THE TED AGU PAPERS: A Black Life That Mattered — And the Secret History of a Covered-Up Death in University of California Football is available on Kindle-friendly devices at http://amzn.to/2aA2LDl. One hundred percent of royalties are being donated to sickle cell trait research and education.


by Irvin Muchnick


The University of California-Berkeley continues to drag its feet on its legal and policy obligation to release to Concussion Inc. internal public records surrounding the 2014 death of football player Ted Agu.

As a result, I am looking toward state court action under the California Public Records Act. Anyone who thinks this effort wouldn’t succeed hasn’t been paying attention to the victory my attorney Roy Gordet just achieved in federal court in the Freedom of Information Act case for the immigration files of rapist former Irish Olympic swimming coach George Gibney.

Why is documenting more of the Agu cover-up so important? The explanation involves, in part, two other emerging young athlete sickle cell trait disease deaths — one very recent, one historic.

The recent one was in August at Aledo High School near Fort Worth, Texas. Trenten Darton, 15, collapsed and died before basketball practice. The cause was found to be “exertional sickling.” In a common mistake, the local media misreported this cause as sickle cell disease (that is, anemia), rather than sudden crisis from sickle cell trait in an otherwise healthy person. Below, we’ll explain more about this confusion and how, though the sickle cell research and fundraising establishment well understands all this, no one is seriously confronting King Football with it — and how the deference and passivity are killing kids.

The second event we’re closely examining is the 1971 death of Billy Arnold, a football player at the University of North Carolina. Arnold collapsed, from what was identified at the time as heat prostration, while doing wind sprints. He was hospitalized in critical condition for two weeks before dying. Even if exertional sickling wasn’t a factor here (and researchers have no evidence 45 years later), the pattern of conditioning coach excess alleged here parallels that found in some sickling death cases. 

A browse of the contemporaneous news coverage reveals there were two divergent investigations of Arnold’s death. A New York Times story reported that “a five-member faculty council subcommittee on athletics, after a two-week study, issued a 32-page report on the case. Drawing on testimony from coaches, players and medical officials, the panel attempted to reconstruct events during the Sept. 6 practice and concluded there was no evidence of irregularities or negligence in the death.”

However, “the Committee of Concerned Athletes … issued a 22-page report citing ‘discrepancies’ in the faculty study. It also presented documentation of personal experiences of negligence and brutality on the part of the coaching staff.”

Sickle cell trait researchers have so raised awareness of such hitherto-buried incidents that new procedures were put in place: all athletes are screened, and coaches and support staff are supposed to be on alert for the first signs of distress in sickle cell carriers. There were ten sickling deaths in Division I football during the decade of the 2000s. Then there were none for four years — until the University of California flouted those procedures.

Ted Agu was screened for sickle cell, but Dr. Casey Batten, head coach Sonny Dykes’ strength and conditioning assistant Damon Harrington, and athletic trainer Robbie Jackson did nothing with the information that Agu had the trait and needed to be protected. Depositions in the eventual $4.75 million civil lawsuit settlement between the university and the Agu family show that university officials lied in testifying that Agu had collapsed just once, not multiple times, in his fatal conditioning drill; that the institution criminally concealed Agu’s sickle cell condition from the Alameda County coroner and withheld more than 100 pages of investigation from the sheriff’s officers; and that conditioning coach Harrington’s brutal, unprofessional, and foul-mouthed program already had sent another player to the hospital with a concussion, delivered via a vigilante teammate’s criminal beating.

And to show how it then goes in the football-industrial complex:

  • Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour would leave, mostly because of unrelated scandals — only to land the even cushier position of AD at Penn State.
  • Deputy AD Solly Fulp would slide over to the new post of pimping university corporate sponsorship deals, for roughly the same middle-six-figures package or more.
  • Having sufficiently demonstrated his failure to execute the Hippocratic oath, Batten would get hired as team physician for the Los Angeles Rams.
  • Dykes would leverage a single minor bowl game appearance into a raise and a contract extension.
  • Harrington, his messenger of a new “crusader culture,” continues to get annually renewed.
  • Admittedly, athletic trainer Jackson is out of the industry. Then again, Agu’s was the second exertional sickling death on Jackson’s watch — in 2008, he had lost Ereck Plancher at the University of Central Florida under similar conditions, yet was still allowed to network his way to the Cal staff.

Football’s fanboys don’t want to hear any of this, but they must. So must the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America (SCDAA), whose executive director canceled an appointment with Concussion Inc. to discuss becoming the beneficiary of Kindle royalties from our TED AGU PAPERS. Nobly, SCDAA wants to raise money to fight sickle cell anemia (the scourge of defectively shaped red blood cells). But not to fully advise the 1 in 12 African-American males with sickle cell trait that, while they can lead perfectly normal lives, they have better things to do with their time than to get driven to sudden death by maniac football coaches.


“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

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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick