According to an article this morning on College Football Talk, the family of former Ole Miss football player Bennie Abram has officially filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, the NCAA, the University of Mississippi and other related defendants.
Mississippi’s Board of Trustees and several other people with ties to the Ole Miss football program are included in the proceedings as is a hospital in the Oxford area which was responsible for Abram’s care when he became sick following an agility drill in a February 19th off-season workout session.
Abram’s death was determined to be due to over-exertion and pre-existing condition related to sickle cell anemia and heart inflammation. The lawsuit states the coaches at Ole Miss willingly violated NCAA standards regarding practice intensity and duration and the trainers and medical staff at Ole Miss did not intervene on Abram’s behalf to protect his health on the day of his death.
This case sparks two great questions:
When is enough, enough?
What responsibility do coaches and medical staff at a given university have to know medical conditions that could affect the health of each team member?
If you were to poll 250 coaches on what they consider an “intense” practice session, chances are you would get a multitude of different answers. No two would be the same.
What one coach considers excessive and uncessary may be a walk in the park to the next. It would be difficult to place a standard on something that isn’t easily quantifiable– extertion and conditioning.
Additionally, is it reasonable for coaches to be held accountable for knowledge of conditions among their athletes that could result in death?
At a minimum, the medical staff at Ole Miss should have done what was necessary to protect Abram if he was visibly becoming sickened by the workout session in question by this lawsuit.
Trainers aren’t often likely to step in and disrupt a practice–especially a practice run by a coach with Houston Nutt’s reputation for demanding intensity from his players–but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t.
A simple intervention by one trainer or doctor could have saved this young man’s life–instead the family, university and Oxford community will be in the middle of a lawsuit regarding his wrongful death which could have easily been avoided.
Conditioning is of the upmost importance for a Division I athlete. All other things considered equal (especially talent), the best conditioned athlete will come out on top when the going gets tough.
Conditioning, however, should never come at the expense of one’s health.
Bennie Abram’s case, and the recent case of the Iowa football players who became ill after over-exertion, should be a wakeup call to the NCAA that these incidents are no longer isolated and are becoming common.
If the NCAA wants to put its money where its mouth is on this issue, swift action should be taken to ensure Bennie Abram’s death is the last that results from over-exertion on the practice field.