University of Oklahoma Athletic Trainer: From the Moment of Ted Agu’s Death, Cal Football Staff Feared Implications of a Finding of Sickling Collapse, Instead of Coronary

Published March 25th, 2019, Uncategorized

PREVIOUSLY:

“See It Now: First Responders to 911 Call For Ted Agu Recorded, ‘PATIENT HAS HISTORY OF SICKLE CELL’”, March 20, 2019, https://concussioninc.net/?p=13726

“Since-Defrocked Cal Athletic Trainer Robbie Jackson Was Almost Certainly the One Who Told Campus Cop and Paramedics That Ted Agu Carried the Sickle Cell Trait,” March 20, 2019, https://concussioninc.net/?p=13728

Complete headline links to our series on the Ted Agu death cover-up (beginning November 2013 — before Agu’s death): https://concussioninc.net/?p=10877

 

by Irvin Muchnick

 

The University of California-Berkeley Golden Bears coaching and athletic training staff were well aware, as soon as Ted Agu died on February 7, 2014, that the likely cause was an exertional collapse associated with sickle cell trait (ECAST). And they were deeply anxious about the likely damage to the football program of such a finding.

These insights into the real-time crisis thinking of officials at Memorial Stadium, the Haas Pavilion, and the Simpson Center athletes’ complex come from a powerful source: Scott Anderson, the head athletic trainer at the University of Oklahoma who, as part of his advocacy of reforms in football conditioning culture and practices, makes a practice of examining the circumstances of death incidents throughout the country.

Anderson has spoken out and written extensively about football conditioning deaths in general and prevention of ECAST in particular. His articles in the Journal of Athletic Training are the most authoritative accounting of college football conditioning deaths, which now total 36 this century at junior college, National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, and National Collegiate Athletic Association schools. Anderson is also a 2015 inductee of the Oklahoma Athletic Trainers’ Association Hall of Fame.

Anderson told me that he decided to share his information about the internal discussion in Berkeley in the immediate aftermath of the Agu death because of new documentation published at this site, which has shown that the campus police officer and the paramedics who were dispatched to the 911 call after he was stricken were specifically told of the player’s “pre-existing medical condition” and “history of sickle cell.”

Anderson is allowing publication of his access to an Agu-related conversation on condition that his own sources — who are his counterparts at Cal and other schools — not be named.

A significant offshoot of this story is that Anderson shared the information with a writer for CBSsports.com, and a version of it was published, then quickly pulled, during the same February 2014 period. This reporting history goes to one of the themes of our coverage of all aspects of football’s public health issues: the often timid handling of them by major media outlets.

Anderson himself, while firmly planted inside the college football industry, has been a consistent voice in countering what he terms the “Junction Boys” mentality of football conditioning. This term was coined from a book about the boot-camp practices of the late legendary coach Bear Bryant at Texas A&M University.

Returning to the events of February 7, 2014, Anderson said he received information from a former Cal Athletics staffer who was on the phone with an assistant football coach as panic unfolded over the Agu death.

“The coach told my source, ‘It’s a sickle cell death’,” Anderson said.

What we now know, from the record of the Agu family’s civil lawsuit against the university, which settled in 2016 for $4.75 million, and from reporting and analysis by Concussion Inc., much of it based on documents produced during California Public Records Act litigation I launched in 2017, is that Cal officials took measures to shield information from the public — and even from the Alameda County medical examiner. The university and its football staff knew that Agu was one of the nearly 10 percent of African-Americans who carry the sickle cell trait, which made him susceptible to a fatal ECAST episode during the kind of extreme drill directed that day by Damon Harrington, then the strength and conditioning assistant under then head football coach Sonny Dykes.

Recently revealed Cal public relations talking points, to which football team physician Dr. Casey Batten adhered, cited the late player’s privacy in declining to address whether Agu was a sickle cell trait carrier. And Batten concealed from coroner Dr. Thomas Beaver the university’s knowledge of Agu’s trait, during a pre-autopsy telephone call that was initiated by Batten, and in which he pushed the theory that the cause of death was hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM.

Beaver’s April 2014 autopsy report would indeed cite HCM as the cause of death. However, the next year, while being deposed in the family lawsuit, Beaver would admit that he had acted on incomplete information. He subsequently took the extraordinary step of having the Alameda County sheriff’s office amend the autopsy report to reflect that ECAST was a cause of death.

Asked for comment on this report, UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof told Concussion Inc., “No comment.” CBS Sports did not respond to our query.