Longtime agent Leigh Steinberg knows athletes, including what makes them train better. He also knows what teams need to do to take adequate care of their athletes.
He recently wrote a guest column for Yahoo!Sports’ ThePostGame blog about how he testified about how a school may have mishandled a student’s case of dehydration.
Henry White was a 21-year-old junior basketball player getting ready for his first season at Grambling State University on Aug. 26, 2009, when he showed up for the earliest conditioning workouts. He spent a rigorous session weightlifting. He then was punished for showing up to campus late by being forced to run four and a half miles that a day in the heat and humidity of August in Louisiana. He collapsed upon finishing, and he died 12 days later.
An idealistic young attorney named Scott Chafin from Shreveport, Louisiana, called me a year ago to ask if I would be an expert witness in a lawsuit asking Grambling State for compensation for wrongful death. Henry had left a young son. My role would be to project what his earning curve would be had he lived and played professional basketball at any level, been involved in television commentary or worked in his field of criminal justice. I generally shy away from such testimony. There are many faults with the entire tort system; there should be a better way of compensating victims and punishing wrongdoers. But when the case is particularly worthy and makes a larger point about reform, I have agreed.
Steinberg wrote that the reason he testified is that this death could have easily been prevented. He did so despite a conservative community and a courtroom that looked like something out of a southern-based John Grisham novel.
Chafin argued passionately that Grambling State did not have adequate emergency procedures and trained personnel to deal with White on the campus after he collapsed. The first protocol would have dictated placing the collapsed athlete into an ice bath in one of the tubs present in the training room. Chafin was able to show the jury that with the proper procedures in place, White might have lived. The jury proved to be wise and compassionate and returned an award, which will allow his child a more promising future.
This is a critical issue that needs to be revisited at professional, collegiate and high school levels. The younger an athlete is, the more risk he or she faces. One death — that of Minnesota Vikings lineman Korey Stringer — should have been enough. Weekend warriors, runners, as well as younger athletes need to be prepared before play or practice for the dangers and able to avail themselves of proper emergency treatment if necessary. Williams vs. Board of Supervisors sends a clarion call to all sports organizations, athletes and parents to be aware of the risks of dehydration.
– Bill Bradley, contributing editor