Archive for Sunday, July 20, 2008

Commentary: Deadly drills should be outlawed

July 20, 2008


Cause of death: mat drills.

That's what the autopsy report should have said Friday.

It should have said, "Ereck Plancher, just 19 years old, literally worked himself to death doing a draconian football drill that should be outlawed in 21st-century America."

The final autopsy report released Friday was supposed to bring blessed closure on the tragic death of Plancher, the University of Central Florida freshman football player, but instead it just brought more controversy and questions.

Did UCF follow national guidelines and properly monitor Plancher, whom the autopsy found had a medical condition - sickle-cell trait - that put him at risk for sudden death under physical stress?

And why did UCF officials, after leading the public to believe after all these weeks and months that Plancher was a normal, healthy college football player, wait until after the autopsy report to suddenly reveal they knew all along he had a medical condition that has contributed to the death of 10 athletes during the last seven years?

And the most troubling question of all: Why is Ereck Plancher and probably every other college football player in this country put in such physically stressful situations that their bodies and organs can literally shut down?

I will spare you the medical and technical autopsy explanation of Plancher's death and get right to the translation: His body was pushed to a point where his liver, spleen, pancreas, kidneys and, finally, his heart stopped working.

I've asked it before and I'll keep asking it: Why is it that four college football players in this state have died this decade and none of them died during a game but all died during preseason conditioning drills? I'll tell you why. Because college coaches, with their archaic puke drills, are literally running these guys into the grave.

It's like former Auburn head coach Terry Bowden, who now lives in Orlando, recently wrote in a column for "Maybe these tragic deaths are not inevitable. Maybe it's time to start asking ourselves different questions. Are we demanding much more from these athletes than is required to safely play? . . . We are not seeing these types of unexpected deaths during the regular season. . . . Perhaps it's because we are getting our kids ready to play football then, and not getting them ready for mortal combat."

Bowden uses the combat analogy for good reason - because many college football coaches like UCF's George O'Leary are militaristic men who believe football is analogous with war. They run practices like boot camps and concoct these grueling mat drills as if they are trying to simulate the invasion of Normandy.

O'Leary probably is not much different than most other college coaches except for one thing - one of his players died. And when an athlete dies in any sport, scrutiny follows and, hopefully, so does enlightenment.

When Dale Earnhardt died, NASCAR joined the 21st century and started making its cars and tracks safer. Maybe college football should do the same in the wake of Ereck Plancher's tragic death.

Where do you draw the line when training teenagers to play the "game" of college football?

Well short of them puking and fainting.

Way short of them dying.


Leprechaunking13 9 years, 8 months ago

Maybe he shouldn't have been playing football at all? If he had a medical condition that made it so his body couldn't handle physical stress, why was he playing a physically demanding sport like football? You can't totally blame the coach for this, how many other players are there on the team? How many of those other players have sickle cell? To listen to the author you would think every player was at the same risk, football has come a long way from the days of coaches saying that water is for the weak and to take a salt tablet. The coaching staff now for all athletics is more than a man with a whistle barking at his players, the drills they run have a purpose to make the athlete better at the game. I'm not taking full blame away from the coaches but its also on the athlete and his family, because they knew he had sickle cell anemia before he went to play at college. It is very tragic however.

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