Daily Archives: September 18, 2009

A football coach is acquitted: a victory for barbaric practices everywhere

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On August 20, 2008, Pleasure Ridge Park High School in Louisville, Ky. held football practice. Coach David Stinson ran the players hard, and the practice kept going, and the sweltering heat didn’t make it easier for any of the players.

Allegedly, Stinson told the players they were going to run “until somebody quits.” I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that Stinson could’ve said this; in my 12 years of being around high school football, I know coaches say stuff like that all the time.

There is no more ugly example of macho bullshit pride than a high school football coach humiliating and embarrassing his teenaged players because he can. I’ve seen it happen everywhere, men wearing shorts and whistles completely destroying a kid’s self image. It’s a disgusting sight.

Of course no players at Pleasure Ridge Park complained; football players in preseason practice are treated little better than animals locked in cages. They keep their mouths shut and do every drill and maybe they get water breaks every once in a while.

Back to Stinson. On this day, the heat index was 94 degrees, but the players kept running. Eight to 10 players were vomiting, witnesses said.

Finally, one lineman, 15-year-old Max Gilpin, couldn’t take it anymore. His body temperature at 107 degrees, he passed out, his eyes rolled into the back of his head, and he died of heat stroke three days later.

This, sadly, happens all too often on the gridiron.

According to a study conducted by Dr. Frederick Mueller at the University of North Carolina for the American Football Association in 2008, 114 deaths have been attributed to heat stroke between 1960 and 2007 on all levels of football.

But this time, someone was going to be held liable. Prosecutors in Louisville decided to go after Stinson after Gilpin’s parents wanted to file a criminal complaint. The coach was charged with reckless homicide and wanton endangerment for not taking steps to ensure the players’ safety.

When I heard about this trial, I was thrilled. Finally, more light was going to be shed on these coaches who think they’re making kids “men” and “tougher” by asking them to endure things no teenager should be asked to endure.

There is no more powerful figure in a high school (especially here in the South) than a high school football coach. He does what he wants, to who he wants, in practice, and no one ever stands up them.

Here was a prosecutor, and some grieving parents, who said no. Who said it’s not OK to tell kids that we’re going to run until somebody quits. It’s not OK to ignore symptoms like, I don’t know, VOMITING, from players as just a sign of weakness. (One other player collapsed during this Pleasure Ridge practice as well, but recovered.)

Yes, things are better than they used to be. Yes, athletic trainers and doctors are doing a better job of educating coaches about water breaks and knowing when to stop.

But believe me, there are still plenty of neanderthals leading groups of 15 and 16-year-old boys, screaming about “discipline” and “toughness” as sprint after sprint is run in 100 degree heat.

Stinson’s trial began three weeks ago, and the verdict came in Thursday night.

The Jefferson County jury could’ve sent a message, loud and clear.

But they didn’t. After 90 minutes of deliberations Thursday Stinson was acquitted on all charges.

Prosecutor Leland Hulbert, the first to try a high school football coach criminally in the case of a player’s death, said he was disappointed in the verdict but knew it would be a tough case to win, saying “it would be difficult for jurors to find a football coach guilty of a crime.”

How sad is that?

During the trial, the Louisville Courier-Journal (which did a fantastic job covering the case), quoted Stinson’s lawyer, Alex Dathorne, talking to the jury.

“Convict football, don’t convict this man,” Dathorne told jurors. “This man was doing what every coach in the country was doing that day.”

Exactly.

This case could’ve been a fantastic precedent that maybe, just maybe, could’ve saved a kid’s life one day.

Instead, barbarism and “good ole’ boy toughness” wins again.

Tragic.