Solo Workout Death of Cal Football Player Bryce Turner Might — Or Might Not — Relate to the Ongoing Theme of Deaths in Offseason Team Conditioning

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January 12, 2019

-by Irvin Muchnick


Over the weekend, news broke of the untimely death of University of California-Berkeley football player Bryce Turner, who had been stricken while working out. Various reports place his age at 19 or 20; since Turner was a redshirt sophomore, 20 sounds right. Here’s how the San Francisco Chronicle covered it:

Several readers wondered whether I would weigh in. I first wanted to avoid speculation and to give the young man’s family and friends some space. From what is currently known, there isn’t reason to believe Turner’s death connects to the ongoing thread of conditioning drill deaths of college football players, at a rate of a couple a year since 2000. Evidently, Turner was working out on his own in Southern California. This is different than one of those voluntary-but-really-mandatory offseason group sessions supervised by a maniac strength and conditioning coach and, at minimum, signed off on by the head coach.

However, the disclaimer from here comes with a counter-disclaimer, which is that Cal has no reservoir of credibility in these matters.

When Ted Agu expired in February 2014 during that bizarre hill climb-rope pull-turkey trot designed by Damon Harrington, then conditioning assistant for then head coach Sonny Dykes, I was already in the middle of being the only journalist reporting in depth on the “Few Good Men” assault by J.D. Hinnant of teammate Fabiano Hale in retaliation for missing a non-traveling squad punishment session three months earlier. As a matter of fact, in deference to all those mourning the Agu tragedy, I took a pause from writing about the Alameda County district attorney’s final consideration of criminal charges against Hinnant, which broke at the same time.

It turned out that my deference was excessive. The Hinnant-Hale incident had a serious connection to the Agu fatality: in the testimony of whistleblowers, both episodes were part of what last year, in the death of Jordan McNair at the University of Maryland, would be termed a “toxic culture” in the football conditioning program.

Further, as Concussion Inc.’s reporting would establish, the Berkeley campus police never shared with the district attorney the statements given to cops (and to Cal officials as high as a senior vice chancellor) by the central whistleblower, backup quarterback Joey Harrington. This information emerged during the pendency of the statute of limitations on the “deferred” (and ultimately expunged) prosecution of Hinnant. But maybe the real crime was, in addition to Hinnant’s violence, coach Harrington’s incitement of it.

Further still, as we now know, the university covered up knowledge of Agu’s sickle cell trait condition, which swerved the county coroner into botching the finding of his cause of death. The Agu family got to this truth in the course of their wrongful death lawsuit against UC, which settled for $4.75 million. But by then a yawning public — already conditioned to accept as normal kids croaking annually in offseason college football boot camp — had turned the page.

Currently, the university and I are in the climactic phase of my California Public Records Act lawsuit, which was filed nearly two years ago. In a motion invited by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Brand, I am seeking release of 141 pages of secret campus police reports that — according to the table of contents, independently acquired from campus sources — almost certainly would shed light both on how the Hinnant-Hale incident links to the Agu death and on how Cal misled and lied to the public about full awareness of the role of sickle cell trait in the latter.

Judge Brand has scheduled a hearing for next Thursday, January 17, at the Hayward Hall of Justice.


Complete headline links to our Ted Agu series:

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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick