by Irvin Muchnick
Though higher levels of the sport obviously get more attention, tonight is a big night in the world of the National Junior College Athletic Association. In the NJCAA championship game, broadcast on the CBS Sports cable network, the Broncbusters of Garden City Community College in Garden City, Kansas, are taking on the Lions of East Mississippi Community College in Scooba.
The title game pits perennial junior college powerhouses. East Mississippi is the top-ranked team and defending champion; Garden City is second-ranked and won the championship two years ago.
The game is being played in Pittsburg, Kansas, which is about 400 miles east of Garden City. Pittsburg is also a 45-minute drive up the road from Joplin, Missouri, which is the next place of employment for Jeff Sims, Garden City’s head coach. After four years in southwestern Kansas, Sims is taking the helm at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin. According to our notes of his comings and goings, this will be the 14th head or assistant football coaching spot in his career: two in high schools, 12 in colleges (including two stints at Indiana University).
Does Missouri Southern State know that on August 1 of this year, Sims’s Garden City program had a 19-year-old player, Braeden Bradforth, drop dead following the Broncbusters’ first practice session of the summer? And did Missouri Southern State ask Sims about this or otherwise probe the circumstances of the Bradforth fatality?
Lending urgency to these questions is the matter of Bradforth’s autopsy findings: they still hasn’t been released, 118 days after he collapsed in his dorm. In the immediate aftermath, Sims claimed that the death was “not football-related.” But he is in no way qualified to make such a determination.
Yesterday Missouri Southern State deferred Concussion Inc.’s query regarding the vetting process for Sims. According to Justin Markus, the media relations director, athletic director Jared Bruggeman is away on a National Collegiate Athletic Association committee assignment. Evan Jewsbury, the chief campus human resources officer, did not return an email requesting clarification of the university’s policies on disclosure of job interview questions.
In the not-so-grand history of football mortality, Missouri (where I was born) has a major stake. The Show Me State’s public institutions of higher learning already have contributed to this century’s toll of 36 non-traumatic deaths in college football practice or conditioning. In 2005, University of Missouri-Columbia player Aaron O’Neal perished in a preseason workout under then head coach Gary Pinkel. (Two years later the Mizzou Tigers briefly flirted with a top national ranking.)
In 2009 the university settled a wrongful death lawsuit by O’Neal’s family for $2 million. The cause of death was an exertional collapse associated with sickle cell trait.
In 2016 the University of California would come to a $4.75 million settlement of a wrongful death lawsuit by the family of Cal Berkeley’s Ted Agu, who had died of the same sort of sickling attack that befell O’Neal. (A California judge recently ruled tentatively in Concussion Inc.’s favor in our effort, under the state Public Records Act, to acquire 141 pages of secret campus police reports in the Agu death; a court hearing has been set for January 17.)
After Garden City either wins or loses tonight, we will continue to follow the story of the late Braeden Bradforth — and of the on-field success and peripatetic career of his coach Jeff Sims.
Published August 3rd, 2018
Published August 9th, 2018
Published November 14th, 2018