by Irvin Muchnick
At a press conference earlier today at his district office in Freehold, Congressman Chris Smith, the Republican representing New Jersey’s Fourth District, blasted the failure of Garden City Community College in Kansas to respond to Smith’s call for an investigation of last year’s football conditioning death of 19-year-old student-athlete Braeden Bradforth — an event that has galvanized the local community and come to be regarded as emblematic of the ongoing phenomenon of the deaths of non-adult, non-professional football players, not from game or scrimmage contact, but merely from extreme coach-driven conditioning practices.
Bradforth died of exertional heart stroke on August 1, 2018, following sprint drills — reportedly with water withheld from the players — in the first practice session of the season. The session was supervised by the head coach, Jeff Sims, who last November would leave Garden City for the head football coaching position at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin.
In the days following the death, Sims promoted a false story that Bradforth had expired from a blood clot; the autopsy by the Finney County coroner’s office would firmly reject this non-supported theory and conclude that the death was from exertional heat stroke, after the player, in an incoherent state, wandered off unsupervised from a team meeting, then was found unresponsive and slumped against a building on campus.
And seven months after the death, the community college admitted that it had erased security surveillance video of the young man’s collapse and discovery, as well as the 19-minute gap before a 911 call was placed.
Congressman Smith has recently intervened on behalf of Bradforth’s mother, Joanne Atkins-Ingram, with a letter to Garden City president Ryan Ruda demanding that the college commission an independent review of the incident, modeled after the one by the University of Maryland after last year’s exertional heat stroke death of Jordan McNair.
At today’s press conference, Smith said Ruda had responded to the congressman’s letter only with a perfunctory acknowledgment and a flat expanation that the letter was being forwarded to legal counsel. Smith said Garden City had erected a “brick wall” by so far refusing to release its own internal administrative report on the death or to commission an independent review. The adjectives Smith used to describe the position of the Kansas community college — which, the congressman noted at one point, receives federal funds to support scholarship and other programs — included “rude,” “legalistic,” “condescending,” and “outrageous.”
Smith said he would pursue a Government Accountability Office audit of the adherence of college football programs across the country to “best practices” in football conditioning health and safety, and suggested that Atkins-Ingram would be a powerful voice at possible congressional hearings in anticipation of needed legislation to address gaps in this area.
Atkins-Ingram spoke after Smith and reemphasized that what she most wants now are specific answers to basic questions about what happened to her son less than 48 hours after he landed in Kansas to enroll and play football at Garden City.
Atkins-Ingram’s attorney Jill Greene said the college has been on constructive notice for months and that a civil lawsuit may be inevitable.
Greene also used the occasion to announce that a meeting of interested community members and supporters is scheduled for next Thursday, April 11, at 6 p.m. EDT, at the Friendship Baptist Church, 929 Mattison Avenue in Asbury Park. A recent spontaneously organized local “town hall” attracted more than 50 participants, and the event next week is expected to draw a crowd multiples larger.
A featured speaker on the 11th, by telephone, will be Dr. Randy Eichner, the retired football team physician at the University of Oklahoma who is the nation’s leading authority on the more than three dozen college football conditioning deaths this century. Eichner has said that the facts of the Bradforth death add up to a case of “reckless endangerment” on the part of the Garden City football staff, and has emphasized that exertional heat stroke is eminently treatable and should never result in death.
DEATH OF BRAEDEN BRADFORTH — CHRONOLOGICAL HEADLINE LINKS