by Irvin Muchnick
HBO’s Real Sports has broadcast a devastating piece on the out-of-control culture and practices of college football conditioning.
There is no more powerful closing argument in my current Public Records Act case against the University of California for internal documents relating to the 2014 death of Ted Agu in Berkeley than this 20-minute segment on global cable and streaming television.
The jumping-off point and emotional center of correspondent Jon Frankel’s presentation is the recent death, from complications of heat stroke, of the University of Maryland’s Jordan McNair. But the narrative through-line leans heavily on what happened to Agu, in an unspotted and initially covered-up case of exertional collapse associated with sickle cell trait, and on the sick career arc of the Cal strength and conditioning coach at the time, Damon Harrington, who essentially committed negligent homicide and yet is now employed in the same job at nearly 100 percent African-American Grambling State University.
At the conclusion of the report, Real Sports anchor Bryant Gumbel asks correspondent Frankel, “Where’s the outrage?” The piece cites 30 college football conditioning deaths this century. With the help of experts such as Dr. E. Randy Eichner, retired team physician at the University of Oklahoma, and Scott Anderson, Oklahoma’s head athletic trainer, Concussion Inc. has pinned that number at 37, including not just big-time Division I programs but all levels of college football. (Anderson is an important voice in the Real Sports piece.)
To compelling effect, Real Sports has the on-camera testimony of former Cal player Trey Cheek, who was not part of the deposition transcripts collected in Concussion Inc.’s 2016 ebook, THE TED AGU PAPERS: A Black Life That Mattered — And the Secret History of a Covered-Up Death in University of California Football. Cheek corroborates everything other Agu teammates said about his ongoing distress and multiple collapses in the course of that bizarre and fatal hill run-cum-rope pull drill on February 7, 2014.
Most importantly, Cheek verifies the deposition and campus police interview account of the base whistleblower we’ve written about, backup quarterback Joey Mahalic, regarding coach Harrington’s incitement of J.D. Hinnant’s criminal attack of Fabiano Hale three months prior to the incident in which Agu perished. Cheek even adds a detail: he remembers not that Harrington exhorted the student-athletes under his thumb to hold each other accountable “by any means necessary” — and simulating a punch for emphasis — but of explicitly stating that back in Harrington’s own day, teammates would handle such matters as Hale’s absence from a conditioning session with a “knockout.” (Hale was indeed sucker-punched and knocked unconsciousness, and wound up in the emergency room with a concussion.)
Let’s see what today brings in my case management hearing in Alameda County Superior Court. In the meantime, here once again is what Berkeley campus police chief Margo Bennett said to vice chancellor John Wilton in a March 20, 2014, email:
“John, regarding the documents I gave you yesterday, please don’t share the papers … l put them together for you (and Ann if needed) only. If others need the information, I am happy to give a verbal briefing, but not documents. The case is not available for a PRA [Public Records Act] request and I’d like to keep it that way.”
And here is an expurgated version of the table of contents Concussion Inc. has acquired of the mystery 141-page document, which the university calls not a campus police report but “a binder”:
Table of Contents
Initial UCPD report and supplements … A
Supplement Autopsy 02-10-2014 … B
Miscellaneous supplements/documents … C
Interview with [REDACTED] … D
Interview with [REDACTED] … E
Interview with [REDACTED] … F
Interview with [REDACTED] … G
Interview with [REDACTED] … H
Interview with [REDACTED] … I
Interview with [REDACTED] transcripts … J
Interview with [REDACTED] transcripts … K
Interview with [REDACTED] transcripts … L
Interview with [REDACTED] transcripts#1 … M
Interview with [REDACTED] transcripts#2 … N
Interview with [REDACTED] … O
Final Autopsy Report by Dr. Beaver … P
Complete headline links to our Ted Agu series: https://concussioninc.net/?p=10877