What I Mean When I Say That Sonny Dykes and Damon Harrington and the University of California Killed Ted Agu

“John Furlong versus First Nations alleged victims: Let both sides be heard”
January 9, 2017
USA Swimming’s Chief Executive Perjuror, Chuck Wielgus, Announces Retirement
January 11, 2017

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

Sonny Dykes is out as Cal football head coach. Rest assured that Ted Agu’s 2014 death, on Dykes’ watch, is no more the reason for this move than it would have been cause for pangs of conscience had the Dykes regime, in an alternate universe, gone on to great won-loss success.

Yesterday an athletic trainer at a top college football program emailed me, “No one gives a shit about dead athletes.” He got that right. (By the way, this trainer is not hostile to my work of exposing the sick excesses of the football industry.)

Damon Harrington, Dykes’ off-the-shelf strength and conditioning assistant at two stops — Louisiana Tech and Cal — is not part of the sports media’s cookie-cutter speculation on the future arc of various protagonists’ careers.

Harrington, of course, is the ultimate replaceable part. Unlike Dykes, Harrington has no $5.3 million buyout; he merely has a $150,000 yearly rollover, which the University of California-Berkeley likely will choose not to exercise at the end of June. Especially if Chip Kelly, or whoever becomes the new head coach, has a nephew somewhere who fancies himself a strength and conditioning coach.

In any case, character assessments of Dykes and Harrington were never, per se, the point of my reporting on the Agu death. And that reporting continues during UC’s ongoing obfuscations in response to requests for public records on the background of the death incident and its close cultural cousin: Harrington’s “code red” incitement, three months earlier, of lineman J.D. Hinnant to beat into unconsciousness running back Fabiano Hale, as retribution for Hale’s sin of having skipped out on a punishment drill.

More documents and information should be emerging. Some of them, perhaps, will be in the course of litigation Concussion Inc. will not be afraid to execute under the California Public Records Act.

More stories will follow, whether or not the San Francisco Chronicle and all the other enablers of big football and big institutions want to tell them.

Dykes and Harrington not only weren’t the point; they also are in no way outliers in the college sports system. In shining light on what happened to Ted Agu, I do not attempt to show that the responsible Cal coaches were uniquely evil. Rather, I am revealing how the publicly revered, academically precious University of California at Berkeley goes about its particular brand of America’s daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, decadely Faustian deal in pursuit of football glory.

I use the neologism “decadely” with considered care. Indeed, the word is understated. As Cal scrambles to find lunatic boosters who might somewhat relieve taxpayers of the seven-figure burden for making Dykes go away, the athletic department is running a $22 million annual deficit. The bulk of that deficit is $18 million in debt service, for more or less as far as the eye can see, for the retrofit and expansion of Memorial Stadium.

We know these sorts of skewed mission priorities happen at Penn State, which has hiccupped its way right past the late Joe Paterno’s quarter-century-long cover-up of monster child molester Jerry Sandusky. We know they happen at Baylor, the national punch line for football player campus sexual assault — and where, in what appears to have been the last straw of his parlous Cal relationship, Dykes had recently made known his interest in the head coaching opening.

But they happen, too, at Cal. They happen everywhere in the Lake Woebegone world of football, where all the children aspiring to tribal dominance are above-average, and all are eminently disposable.

Take Ted Agu — please. As best I can tell, here’s what happened to him.

Sonny Dykes arrived at Cal in 2013 with a mandate to “change the culture.” He also brought with him a no-huddle offense, something presumably requiring superior cardiovascular conditioning.

Damon Harrington was made deputy in charge of culture change — admiral of the rowboat that is the conditioning room. He brought with him theories and ideologies pertaining to “toughness.” These were carved not from sports kinesiology literature, but from adolescent Navy Seals fantasies and a pastiche of action movies. (Harrington liked to tweet out a still shot of Russell Crowe in Gladiator.)

Harrington told the team they were on a “crusade.” This was an easy sell to 18-to-22-year-olds, all the way from elite athletes like Daniel Lasco, a star running back, on down to walk-on student-athletes like Ted Agu, a premed major would-be lineman. Lasco would sign a National Football League contract with the New Orleans Saints and credit Harrington’s training. For Agu, the only ticket to the NFL would have come from purchasing a personal seat license.

When he wasn’t calling his gimmick a crusade, Harrington was calling it the “Swagger Games.” It’s nothing unique in paramilitary motivational tricks; there’s a variation on it in many places. I’ve heard a story of one strength and conditioning goof who rousts the boys at 5 a.m. for such activities as leaping off a rooftop like Hollywood stunt men, so as to “conquer their fear.”

I’m told that football conditioners are directed to really pour it on for the hangers-on, the walk-on guys — the better to drive them away and not have to bother dressing them for home games.

In this mad laboratory of sports psychopathology, fate put J.D. Hinnant and Fabiano Hale side by side on Harrington’s cultural petri dish on November 1, 2013. Both players were redshirted freshmen on scholarship; in other words, their enrollment at the university could be rescinded by the coaches at the end of any semester, on any whim.

At the Friday, October 31, conditioning drill for the Golden Bears’ non-travel group, Coach Harrington had noted unexcused absences, including Hale’s. Taking a leaf from the playbook of tough love, he made the athletes present do extra sets of “bear rolls,” until many vomited.

Player Joey Mahalic’s whistleblower statement to police, as well as his Agu family civil lawsuit deposition testimony, would memorialize Harrington’s simulating a punch as he spoke to the group about the need to maintain accountability to each other “by any means necessary.” In Hinnant’s interpretation, the means necessary included cold-cocking Hale the next day and sending him to the emergency room of Alta Bates Medical Center.

Dykes, Harrington, and the coaching staff were so upset by what Hinnant wrought that they (a) proceeded to suit him up for the home game that day and (b) didn’t manage to beat Hale’s parents, who were driving in from Santa Cruz 75 miles away, in dropping in on young Fabiano at the hospital to check on how he was doing.

The criminal beating by Hinnant (never identified in mainstream media accounts) would be ascribed to “a poor choice.” The Alameda County district attorney, Nancy O’Malley, and her assistant, Paul Hora, “deferred” charges.

As a county resident myself, I believe the DA’s office had and continues to have a public safety obligation to look further into Harrington’s agency in this incident.

It was against the backdrop of all of the above that Agu would perish in the early morning, in the darkness of a campus hillside, during a bizarre conditioning-cum-punishment drill designed by Harrington as part of Dykes’ players’ “voluntary” offseason workout “contract.”

University officials lied about the incident at the time. They concealed from county sheriff’s officers, supporting the autopsy inquiry of the medical examiner, more than 100 pages of investigative material assembled by, among others, the campus police. These facts emerged from the lawsuit discovery prior to the UC regents’ $4.75 million settlement with the Agu family. All of it is chronicled, in spades, in the primary-source documents in Concussion Inc.’s ebook.

Further, the same information has been in the hands of the San Francisco Chronicle and the Berkeley graduate school of journalism’s Investigative Reporting Program. They have done nothing with it.

Our final note belongs to the sports parent and African-American communities, who remain mesmerized in the face of King Football’s destruction of public health norms and perversion of physical education principles and healthy sports values.

Ted Agu died because he carried sickle cell anemia trait, which made him vulnerable to an exertional sickling attack. He was not attended to in the face of the obvious signs that his multiple collapses during Harrington’s maniacal drill denoted just such an attack. Though his condition was well known by the Cal medical staff, cautions and controls were ignored.

The sports parent and African-American communities don’t want to hear from any of this, either.

Because, you know, no one gives a shit about dead athletes.


“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

Comments are closed.

Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick