by Irvin Muchnick
Did Braeden Bradforth, the player who died last week at Garden City Community College in Kansas — becoming documented fatality number 36 this century in college football non-contact practice and conditioning — have sickle cell trait?
That is the key question that is not being uttered in the football system about this 19-year-old, 300-pound African-American athlete during an all-too-familiar snap public-opinion autopsy and fast fade from the news cycle.
It’s also a question that the Garden City head football coach, Jeff Sims, has been able to deflect, all too effortlessly, with a standard script that Bradforth’s demise was a random act of God.
Playing surrogate coroner, Sims told the Wichita Eagle that an emergency room physician’s suspicions focused on a likely “preexisting condition” that had set off a massive blood clot, known as a pulmonary embolus, which reached his heart.
The scientific truth is that no cause of death has yet been determined. The medical examiner’s findings could take weeks. ER doctors are not forensic pathologists; they specialize in crude, one-size-fits-all medical triage and analysis.
And other factors raise questions about Coach Sims’ theory of an impossible-to-predict blood clot.
One is that Bradforth’s mother said he suffered from asthma. In 2001 I covered the conditioning-drill death of a Northwestern University player, Rashidi Wheeler, who was asthmatic.
Another is that Bradforth hailed from Neptune, New Jersey, elevation 52 feet — whereas Garden City, Kansas, is 2,838 feet above sea level. After the team’s workout on August 1, the season’s first, and shortly before a teammate found him in distress in his dorm room, Braeden had told his mother on the phone that he felt out of shape because the session was tougher than he expected.
Finally, and again, if we’re going to speculate about a pulmonary embolus, there should be at least equal air time and ink for the proposition that Bradforth succumbed to ECAST (Exertional Collapse Associated With Sickle Cell Trait). One in 12 African-Americans carries sickle cell trait; we don’t know if Bradforth was one of them. But we do know that asthma and being new to even moderate altitude increase the risk of ECAST from intense football conditioning drills.
Of course, we also have precedent for a suppressed ECAST finding. In 2014, when Ted Agu perished in conditioning at the University of California-Berkeley, the school successfully put out early word that he had died from generic heart failure. More than a year later, the Alameda County medical examiner, after being misled by the Cal football team doctor, Casey Batten, who also concealed knowledge of Agu’s sickle cell trait, revised the original findings to reflect that the Agu death was a sickling episode.
The football industry and its sponsors, boosters, and fans are similarly eager to turn the page on what happened last week in Kansas. I say, not so fast.
2017 op-ed article for the Daily Californian on my Public Records Act lawsuit: http://www.dailycal.org/2017/04/25/lawsuit-uc-regents-emblematic-issues-facing-college-football/
Second op-ed article for the Daily Californian (published May 4): http://www.dailycal.org/2018/05/03/years-later-questions-remain-regarding-football-player-ted-agus-death/
“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