by Irvin Muchnick
I’ve promised some additional timeline details on the August 1 death of Braeden Bradforth following the first day of practice at Garden City Community College in Kansas. Some of those details may remain under wraps or in dispute during the pendency of what likely will turn into a wrongful death lawsuit by Bradforth’s mother, Joanne Atkins-Ingram.
But right now there’s a broader timeline everyone can wrap their arms around without a forensics investigation. It is the quick hit of how this 19-year-old kid out of Bruce Springsteen’s New Jersey, who aspired to a pro football career, came to be matriculating at a junior college in the midwestern plains in the first place. The rapid-fire sequence of events offers clues on football’s hold on the public imagination at all levels, from Pop Warner to the National Football League — and on how the public health costs, including the ultimate one, are likewise evident at every link of this industry’s food chain.
This is why the Braeden Bradforth case bears universal scrutiny, as the early trickles of public records coming out of Finney County, Kansas, show the cause of death to be exertional heat stroke (also found in the Jordan McNair fatality at the University of Maryland earlier this year), and additionally hint at criminal culpability (similar to the circumstances of the 2008 death of Kentucky high school player Max Gilpin at the hands of coach Jason Stinson).
Occurring far from the glare of the coastal media, Bradforth’s death so far has not attracted as much attention as McNair’s. Because Garden City rests at the lowest rung of college football (though it has been a powerhouse program of the National Junior College Athletic Association), Bradforth hasn’t rated even the passing glance given to Ted Agu at the University of California-Berkeley, who died from a sickle cell trait-associated collapse during an extreme football conditioning drill in 2014. (Yesterday my attorney Roy Gordet submitted our final brief requested by an Alameda County Superior Court in our motion for the release of 141 pages of secret campus police records in the Agu death; Judge Jeffrey Brand has indicated he will decide by the middle of January.)
Still, you can rest assured that Braeden Bradforth is just as dead as the other 35 college football student-athletes who have lost their lives in non-contact practice sessions this century. And Joanne Atkins-Ingram is just as aggrieved and in search of justice and answers.
Remarkably, the entire scenario of Braeden’s demise played out in little more than a week: from one midsummer Wednesday through his next and last.
Until July 25, Bradforth had been planning to attend school and play football this fall at a community college near his home. All that changed when he received an email from a Garden City CC coach, who was urging him to relocate and play in Kansas.
This recruitment had an odd, double-clutch trajectory. In the spring, another Garden City coach had spotted Bradforth at a track and field practice at Neptune (New Jersey) High School. Braeden, who stood six feet, three inches tall and weighed 305 pounds, threw the shot put and discus. The coach was impressed by his athleticism, as well as his size. However, nothing came of this contact, until a second coach sent the email months later.
By the next day, Thursday, July 26, one of Bradforth’s former teachers at Neptune High was talking with the Garden City coach, and Braeden was deciding to enroll there. Going away to play college football was a dream. And since he needed to be set up on the Garden City campus by the 31st, there was no time to lose. Neptune teachers, coaches, and his mother helped him pull together the college application, his medical exam, and other paperwork.
One piece of business not discussed was a scholarship. According to Joanne, everything happened so quickly that the full terms of Braden’s enrollment, including financial aid, were never reviewed. Joanne and Braeden planned to look into that further once he was settled.
On Monday, July 30, flying by himself for the first time in his life, Bradforth departed out of Newark airport. The elevation of Neptune, New Jersey, is 23 feet above sea level. The altitude of Garden City, Kansas, is 2,838 feet — more than half a mile.
On Wednesday, August 1, Braeden attended his first practice with the Garden City Broncbusters under head coach Jeff Sims. The second of two sessions consisted largely of rapid repetitions of 50-yard sprint drills in the heat. The other members of the squad had been informed about and preparing all summer for this Bataan Death March of a conditioning test. Bradforth had not.
At 11:06 p.m. at St. Catherine Hospital, Braeden Bradforth was pronounced dead.
DEATH OF BRAEDEN BRADFORTH — CHRONOLOGICAL HEADLINE LINKS