In my first year of law school my criminal law professor, the honorable Judge April Walker, presented the class with a hypothetical case where a negligent driver caused the death of a young man. Judge Walker asked the class, based on the circumstances of the case, what would the probable punishment be for the negligent driver? As we tossed around possible scenarios from charges that carried different mandatory sentences, a bold cohort belted out, “no crime and no jail time.” In responding the only way Judge Walker would respond. . . “Who the hell said that?” “NO NO NO, SOMEONE IS DEAD, SO SOMEONE IS GOING TO JAIL!!!”
The Judge was attempting to get across to us that the severity of the negligence demanded that someone would/should pay with incarceration. Jordan McNair collapsed during an afternoon workout on May 29, he died June 13. A young man lost is life on a football practice field, yes not a game, but practice. Even when Allen Iverson uttered that phrase, he quickly came to realize that to many, they did not care that it was simply practice and in this case the fact that it was practice makes this young man’s avoidable death even more absurd, if that is even possible.
Putting your naïveté aside, we all recognize that ALL sports come with occupation hazards. We are all now well aware of the concussion epidemic that plagues sports. Now, I am aware that my position might not be a popular one, but I don’t know how you prevent concussions, and the unenviable CTE in any contact sport. Professional sports come with lifestyle challenges and choices that can have dire effects on our athletes and some sports are inherently dangerous just by how we play them or what we use to play them or even where they are played. So it is from this perspective that this latest needless tragedy must be examined. If those entrusted with a duty, breach that duty and the breech caused the harm (death) of this young man, then someone(s) need to go to jail because I believe that is the only way this ignorance will stop.
There are many who are shouting the pejorative call for a change in culture, what the F#@k does that even mean? A boy is dead! I love when we throw words at a problem that don’t define a solution. How do we change culture to include the very low standard of reasonableness? As I stated this death was preventable and while a culture change might be in order, a more apt response should be, since our negligence helped to cause the death of this young man, how we do what a reasonable person should have done to make sure that this never happens again.
The football culture is a philosophy that is built on history. I have always said, “to play football you must be quick, smart and a little wicked, and the best to play the game, well just remove “little.” The game is the very definition of a contradiction of terms, as you are required to be tough, play through pain, and even the oxymoronic need for controlled violence. I believe it is just lip service to “change the culture,” it is the Band-Aid on a bullet wound, by saying what everyone wants to hear while ignoring that this young man did not need to die from heatstroke in 2018.
In 2001, the Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle, Korey Stringer, 6-foot-4-inch, 335-pound Stringer was 27 and died. He collapsed from heatstroke while at the Vikings’ training camp, and died a day later. The day he collapsed, the temperature was 90 degrees, but the heat index, which is a function of the temperature and humidity, was as high as 110 degrees. Always ahead of the curve, AFTER stringers death, the NFL had discussions and the proverbial well crafted letters to address training camp practice and procedures for instances where life-threatening heat could plague the clubs during summer training camps. Keep in mind that this was 2001, I got in the league in 1984, back when the men were men and everyone was stupid, but even my dumbass was not aware that procedures were not in place for extreme heat. I came in the league when it was accepted that water breaks would be at a minimum, but thirteen years later, I left the league as a 2x All-Pro and a Super Bowl champion, who never had to ask for water in Houston or Green Bay for that matter, as Brad Brown and Pepper Burris and their staff encouraged us to get water as often as we needed, it was not a culture change, just common sense and reasonableness.
A decade later in 2011 alone, there were six instances where high school football players collapsed and died after practicing in scorching heat. Then again in 2014, an autopsy result showed that a Morgan State University football player, an 18-year-old freshman from Washington, D.C., named Marquese Meadow died of heatstroke. This was all happening when research was available that showed that between 1931 and 2012 there had been at a minimum 138 deaths attributable to the heatstroke.
I purposely waited to write about this subject. I wanted to see just how long the outrage could hold our attention. I expected nothing by way of the media keeping this matter in our consciousness, but this subject is not sexy enough, the outrage is diminished and the media now must accept that their response was simply convenient reporting of the news. But we need the media and the outrage to provide simple awareness (wow, it sure is hot today), avoiding a catastrophe or casualty is equally simple. If the player does collapse, then immediate attention is needed, because the simple fact is if you cool the body down right away, these young men do not die. You must get the body temperature down to 104 degrees in twenty-minutes. And for context, Kory Stringer’s body temp hovered at around 108 degrees for over an hour before his organs began to fail. The practice of cold-water immersion has been available for quite some time, Cryotherapy machines could and should be made available just as AEDs are now available at every venue.
Again, not culture change, but just basic common sense and reasonableness. The call for a culture change, while ameliorating for some, simply ignores the fact in this digital media age, there is available information that provides increased awareness of the problem as well as cogent knowledge for advance prevention, detection, protection, prevention, and treatment. If we don’t demand common sense from those entrusted with the lives of these young men, a change in culture will do little to abate the number of fatalities from heatstroke on our football fields. If the very people who are entrusted with the lives of these young men are going to perpetuate, incubate and allow these kids to die, then the culture doesn’t need to change, but Judge Walker needs to be right.