by Irvin Muchnick
Though not as much of a breakthrough as I would have liked, yesterday’s release of the Garden City Community College-commissioned investigation of the August 1, 2018, football conditioning drill death of Braeden Bradforth — co-authored by go-to postmortem consultant Rod Walters — is a strong, indeed devastating, document.
Unlike in his report last year on another exertional heat stroke (EHS) fatality, that of Jordan McNair at the University of Maryland, Walters pulled few punches here, got specific with events, and named culpable parties, most notably former GCCC head football coach Jeff Sims.
Last year, days after the local authorities finished slow-walking the Bradforth autopsy report and confirming that the death wasn’t the random blood clot and “act of God” that Sims was touting, but was indeed EHS, he took his talents to Missouri Southern State University. Let’s stop euphemizing. Sims doesn’t belong on any sideline; he should be on trial for reckless endangerment and manslaughter.
In part, the strength of the new Walter investigation is a byproduct of the success of Bradforth’s tirelessly positive mother, Joanne Atkins-Ingram (mistakenly called “Ingram-Atkins” in the report) in mobilizing a community of supporters from her New Jersey home. These have included Congressman Chris Smith, who in turn got the entire bipartisan House of Representatives delegation from that state on board.
But in substantial part, the painstaking timeline, campus map layouts, and call-out of the (again, former) executive leadership of GCCC were simply compelled by the facts of this case. Taken together, they tell the single most inhumane narrative I have come across in 18 years of reporting on the unconscionable two-a-year toll of kids in non-contact practice sessions, during which, nonetheless, trauma and death get inflicted by maniac coaches and a maniacal sports system.
You can read the 48-page report for yourself at http://muchnick.net/GCCCreport.pdf. Most of it is there: the rushed enrollment of Braeden at one of the bottom-feeder “Last Chance U’s” of the multibillion-dollar college football industry, whose excesses have now embarrassed one of the proud historical gateways to higher education in southwestern Kansas; the disgusting verbal taunts hurled by coach Sims at the soon-to-expire young man, struggling in an extreme cardio drill for which he was unprepared on every level; the fiasco of the more than half-hour gap between when Bradforth was definitively stricken and the summoning of emergency medical services.
The investigation was co-signed by GCCC’s insurer’s law firm, Lewis Brisbois. As such, it seems to signal an inevitable multimillion-dollar settlement with Atkins-Ingram, which, of course, can never bring back her 19-year-old son.
On Saturday, Congressman Smith is holding a press conference with Atkins-Ingram in which he will renew his push for H.R. 4145, “Braeden’s Commission: Protect our Athletes from Exertional Heat Stroke.”
The Walters report is “utterly heartbreaking,” Smith said yesterday.
I disagree that H.R. 4145 is a game-changer. We already have blue-ribbon commissions up the wazoo. In a few years, following another heinous and thoroughly avoidable death, Braeden’s Commission could yield to a Johnny’s Commission, with the full legislative force of requiring everyone to abide by Braeden’s Commission, and we really mean it this time. In commenting so bluntly, I mean no disrespect to either Joanne Atkins-Ingram or Congressman Smith.
My view is that at this point in the history of this problem, there should be a different and more effective pivot: from the money-changing of civil litigation to the teeth and deterrence of the criminal justice system. Here’s where Walters, for all the value of his findings and his unenforceable recommendations, still falls short. He has, however, provided grist in two important ways:
Number one, Sims, and perhaps others, need to be held accountable — not just counseled on how to do better in the future.
Number two, GCCC’s crazy cowboy gun-toting ex-president Herbert Swender, and perhaps others, need to face trial for participating, along with Sims, in the cover-up in real time of the Braeden Bradforth death. In sexual abuse scandals, the chief administrators of Penn State and Michigan State recently have faced the ultimate justice. It is time to resort to the same here. It is time to de-normalize college football conditioning deaths.
Complete chronological headline links to Concussion Inc.’s coverage of the Braeden Bradforth story are at https://concussioninc.net/?p=13441.