January 22, 2009
Over the last decade or so, no element of football -- not late hits, spearing, chop blocks or helmet-to-helmet collisions -- has proven itself a greater hazard to life and limb than sheer heat. In the I-A ranks alone, finely-tuned athletes from Florida Northwestern, Missouri, Florida State and Central Florida have died after collapsing during routine preseason workouts since 2001 (forgive me if I've missed anyone). It's an annual hazard in high school, and one Louisville grand jury today upped the ante on holding coaches accountable:
A Kentucky high school football coach was charged Thursday with reckless homicide in the death of one of his players who collapsed at practice on a hot day.
A grand jury indicted David Jason Stinson in the death of Pleasure Ridge Park offensive lineman Max Gilpin. Stinson was directing practice on Aug. 20, when the heat index reached 94 degrees in Louisville where the school is located. The 15-year-old Gilpin collapsed and had trouble breathing. When the sophomore reached Kosair Children's Hospital, he had a temperature of 107 degrees and died there three days later.
The reckless homicide charge means grand jurors didn't find that Stinson's actions were intentional or malicious, said Jefferson County Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Stengel. However, Stengel said, "a reasonable man should have realized something like this could have occurred."
I lead this post with a picture of another one-time Kentucky coach, Bear Bryant, with two of his (in)famous "Junction Boys," because I wonder if the icon of old-school, path-to-manhood sadism is still "a reasonable man." His boys made it, the handful of them who stayed (including Hall of Fame disciples Gene Stallings and Jack Pardee, and the bond formed by their dusty championship spirit has been celebrated for the last half-century; hell, I made it (albeit with regular water breaks, thank goodness), along with thousands of other kids who deal with 90-plus-degree heat in full pads on a daily basis with no lingering consequences. I wasn't in great shape -- it's just part of the deal, or was.
I wonder if the Bear would be arrested today (or at least relentlessly hounded by the press) if he drove a player too far, or if it was part of his genius that, to my knowledge, he never did. Or was he just lucky? In the age of global warming, universal air-conditioning (maybe my dad was right about its effects on endurance) and obesity epidemics, woe unto the coach who thinks he can still walk that line.