SERIES TO DATE
“‘Newsletter of Intent,’ Covering College Sports Reform, Has New Article About Our Work and Public Records Act Litigation in Cal’s Ted Agu Football Death Cover-Up,” December 3, https://concussioninc.net/?p=14100
“What Do I Mean By the ‘Cover-Up’ in the 2014 Death of University of California Football’s Ted Agu? As We Approach a Key Public Records Act Hearing on Sweeping Secrecy Claims, Let’s Count the Ways,” December 5, https://concussioninc.net/?p=14103
“Cal Football Death Cover-Up, Pt. 1: University Kept Salient Details of Player-on-Teammate Criminal Assault Under Wraps — Both Before and After Ted Agu Perished in the Same Conditioning Program,” December 8, https://concussioninc.net/?p=14105
by Irvin Muchnick
Berkeley campus police patrol officer Stephanie Martinez was a first responder to the scene of the death of football player Ted Agu during an offseason conditioning drill. The first sentence of her report read: ”On 02/07/14, at approximately 0653 hours, I was dispatched to the report of a male subject who had a pre-existing medical condition and was having a medical episode near the North tunnel of the Cal Memorial Stadium in Berkeley.”
At this point it is well established that the University of California-Berkeley knew from almost the first second of the crisis that Agu likely had expired from an exertional collapse associated with sickle cell trait — not from heart disease. We see this in documents released by the UC Regents during my Public Records Act lawsuit, as well as in documents I independently acquired from campus sources.
And we see it in the account of Scott Anderson, the highly respected head athletic trainer at the University of Oklahoma. Anderson, who is active and outspoken in opposition to the conditioning abuses of many college football programs, has made it his mission to document and categorize deaths in these programs. His work includes monitoring them in real time. Thus, on the day Agu died, Anderson was talking to a colleague in Berkeley, whom he chooses not to name. Reflecting the prevailing view and panic on the scene of the crisis, the source told Anderson, “It’s a sickle cell death.”
(Before being published at Concussion Inc. earlier this year [see https://concussioninc.net/?p=13743], Anderson’s account had been briefly published in February 2014 at CBSSports.com — then almost immediately censored.)
At 12:55 p.m. on February 7, 2014, Cal Athletics public relations specialist Wesley Mallette emailed to Dr. Casey Batten, the head football team physician, among others, the script for an upcoming live televised news conference on the Agu death. In the script’s role-playing speculative Q&A, the first question was: “Was there anything in Ted’s medical background that would lead you to believe something like this could happen?”
Batten was instructed to reply, “At this time, we are precluded by law to comment on any other medical details and out of respect for the family and the situation.”
A similar question was indeed asked at the media event, and Batten followed the script, practically verbatim.
Hours after the press conference, the “situation” that called for respect turned out to include something else: a highly irregular phone call by Batten to Dr. Thomas Beaver, the Alameda County medical examiner.
Beaver was about to perform the autopsy on Agu. In later testimony in the Agu family’s wrongful death lawsuit (which the university would settle for $4.75 million in 2016), Beaver expressed puzzlement over the purpose of Batten’s call. Beaver also testified to the thrust of Batten’s unorthodox contact: the team physician was calling to suggest strongly that the death appeared to be an open-and-shut case of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy — heart disease.
As we will review more fully in the next installment of this series, other deposition testimony also established that the Berkeley campus police department failed to share with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, under which the medical examiner works, more than 100 pages of documents assembled in the Agu death. But for now, let’s stick with Batten. Beaver said Batten never told him that Agu carried the sickle cell trait. Largely because of this, Beaver’s official autopsy findings, released two months later, would list the cause of death as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
After Beaver was confronted with new, previously withheld evidence at his deposition in the civil lawsuit the next year, the coroner agreed that this finding had been mistaken. After his testimony, he directed the medical examiner’s office to revise the autopsy to reflect that what had actually happened was a sickling collapse.
At his own deposition, Batten also was questioned about these events. Here’s what he had to say said about his conversation with coroner Beaver: “Umm, I don’t recall that I had a conversation where we — I think we did say something along the lines of it appeared to be, but it was — I think it was — it might have been after — I really don’t recall when I spoke with him.”
Batten is now team physician for the Los Angeles Rams.
Why does all this matter? For two reasons, I believe.
The first is that there are no second chances to make a first impression. Thus, if you search Google today with the query “Ted Agu cause of death,” the answer comes up, “Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.” This erroneous and wrongfully engineered factual misstatement, having the effect of protecting the university’s reputation in what is still the most recent known sickling death in college football conditioning, was exactly what UC Berkeley’s cover-up actions in general, and team physician Casey Batten’s misleading and inappropriate lobbying of the medical examiner in particular, were designed to achieve.
The second reason this matters is my Public Records Act case, which currently is at the eve of key ruling on Concussion Inc.’s motion to daylight a 17-page Agu death public relations-oriented email by Solly Fulp, then the deputy director and chief operating officer of Cal Athletics.
In some measure, the Agu death cost both California taxpayers and UC tuition payers millions of dollars. This money served to make a grieving mother and father whole again after the university’s negligence in their loss — that is, to the extent that any sum of money ever could. The settlement money cannot, however, answer underlying public interest questions underlying this avoidable death. Indeed, such questions include the background of this payout of public funds to resolve a private lawsuit.
In light of what has already been learned as a result of the documents released in my case, the public is owed a complete documentary record of all monetary and non-monetary aspects of the Ted Agu death cover-up.
NEXT: The Berkeley campus police conducted a callback interview of conditioning coach Damon Harrington, to make his earlier evasive answer about Agu’s sickle cell trait more palatable — this in addition to withholding from the sheriff’s office and medical examiner more than 100 pages of documents in the Agu death.
Comprehensive headline links to our six years of Ted Agu death coverage: https://concussioninc.net/?p=10877