by Irvin Muchnick
As the newest and sickest American football season gets under way — by definition, each new one is sicker than the last, the more we learn — Concussion Inc. is exhorting the major media to hit the “pause and reset” button in coverage of the latest highly publicized death. It is that of 14-year-old Dominick Bess of New York, who collapsed and died Tuesday at football practice at Mount Saint Michael Academy in the Bronx.
The New York Daily News account, at http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/bronx/mom-bronx-teen-died-practice-didn-play-article-1.3436157, cites the usual “cardiac arrest” cause of death. But was this actually another sudden exertional attack visited upon a carrier of sickle cell trait (SCT)? Circumstantial evidence mounts.
Most of the following is cobbled from my conversations with medical experts on SCT. Understandably, these worthies feel that their findings get more mileage out of comprehensive medical journal articles than off-the-cuff comments to a journalist at a small website. But I think the collective parent community of Football America would benefit from multiple platforms of consciousness-raising around the lethal dangers of this staggeringly destructive bloodsport.
As I publish this article, Time magazine has joined the bandwagon with a cover story this week on how youth sports have turned into a $15 billion industry — with attendant tradeoffs in killing and maiming participants who are pushed by parents who fantasize about glory and riches while outsourcing their parenting.
Back to Dominick Bess.
He was born on the island of Montserrat, where an estimated 15 percent of the black population carry SCT. (Montserrat also has a substantial Irish population.) Twenty years ago a supermajority of the occupants of Monsterrat — four-fifths or more — emigrated following a volcano eruption.
Needless to say, folks from the Caribbean know from heat. And it wasn’t unbearable in the Bronx on Tuesday — 79 degrees Fahrenheit.
What it was, however, was the second day of football conditioning at Mount Saint Michael Academy. Dominick was made to sprint repeatedly. He said he was tired and he was described as “gasping for air.” The coach allegedly said, “One more lap.”
“This is likely an ECAST death,” a doctor told me. ECAST stands for Exercise Collapse Associated with Sickle Cell Trait.
There have been at least eight ECAST deaths in college and high school football since 2010. There may have been more, perhaps many more, that were misclassified as heart attacks or heatstroke.
At the University of California-Berkeley, Ted Agu’s 2014 death was initially ruled a cardiac event, even though the university medical and training staff had full knowledge that he was an SCT carrier. This information was concealed from the medical examiner, who would revise the autopsy findings in the course of the Agu family’s wrongful death lawsuit against the school, which resulted in a $4.75 million settlement.
Currently, this reporter is in settlement negotiations with the UC Regents in a California Public Records Act lawsuit for additional internal documentation of what the university knew about all the circumstances surrounding the Agu death, and how it was handled.
Meanwhile, the rockhead Cal strength and conditioning coach who drove Agu to his preventable demise has landed the perfect job … not. Damon Harrington now is in the same position for the 99-plus percent African-American football squad at Grambling State. On his Facebook feed, Harrington has posted such high-intelligence motivational material as photos of actor Russell Crowe in full armor in the movie Gladiator.
UPDATE 8/26/17: The New York Times story on Dominick Bess, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/25/nyregion/few-answers-in-the-death-of-a-bronx-football-player.html?_r=0, causes me to amend some details in the analysis above, but not the basic conclusion that his death was likely ECAST.
Dominick was born in the Bronx but spent most of his youth on Montserrat. His father is from Guyana, where SCT incidence is low, in the one- or two-percent range. His mother is from Montserrat, where the SCT rate is as high as 15 percent.
The key point is that since Dominick was born in New York State, where SCT is recorded, whether he was a carrier should not be a mystery.
The Times news article references heat and heart, with no mention of ECAST. Regarding the heat, our piece may have too aggressively downplayed this factor, since the combined temperature-humidity index was, indeed, significant for later Tuesday. However, the conditioning session incident occurred at 9:30 in the morning.
Again, the two takeaways are: 1) ECAST, little-known football killer; and 2) Football killers — let us count the ways.
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-compatible devices at http://amzn.to/2aA2LDl. All royalties are being donated to sickle cell trait research and education.
Op-ed article for the Daily Californian on my Public Records Act lawsuit: http://www.dailycal.org/2017/04/19/journalist-files-lawsuit-uc-regents-alleging-breach-california-public-records-act/
“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