Heat exposure deaths happen occasionally in all levels of football. The cases have led to numerous lawsuits, however, no evidence can be found that a coach has ever been charged in the deaths. Until now. A Kentucky high school football coach was indicted by a grand jury last month with reckless homicide in the death of a player who collapsed during a sweltering practice. Coach David Jason Stinson was charged in the death of 15-year-old sophomore offensive lineman Max Gilpin that occurred on August 20, 2008, when the heat index reached 94 degrees.The indictment has brought on an uproar by many in the Louisville area supporting the coach.
There are, however, allegations that if true could justify making a criminal case out of the tragedy. For example, witnesses allegedly watched Stinson allegedly put players through running drills for almost 45 minutes and heard the coaches say they would run the players until someone quit the team. Witnesses also told the player’s parents’ civil lawyers that when players asked for water, they were told no.
In addition, Gilpin was not the first player to collapse during that practice. 15 minutes before Gilpin collapsed, another player collapsed after running several “gassers” – sprints up and down the field to increase endurance. The other player was a senior who spent two days in the hospital. Also, emergency medical services may not have been called until at least 17 minutes after Gilpin collapsed.
Under Kentucky High School Athletic Association guidelines, when the heat index is under 95, schools must “provide ample amounts of water. This means that water should always be available and athletes should be able to take in as much water as they desire” and schools must “watch/monitor athletes carefully for necessary action.”
Gilpin, who was 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, had a temperature of 107 degrees when he arrived at the hospital, authorities said, and died three days later. No autopsy was performed, but according to the coroner’s office it appeared Gilpin died from complications from heat stroke. According to the prosecutor, reckless homicide occurs when a “person fails to perceive a risk that a reasonable person in that situation would have seen” and that person’s actions cause a death.
According to the prosecutor, reckless homicide occurs when a “person fails to perceive a risk that a reasonable person in that situation would have seen” and that person’s actions cause a death. Football players dying of heat stroke is rare.
Two football players died because of heat stroke in 2007, 34 died of heat stroke from 2000-2007 and 39 died from it during the 1990s, according to the Annual Survey of Football Injury Research. A report compiled by Dr. Frederick Mueller at the University of North Carolina for the American Football Coaches Association in February 2008 states that from 1960 through 2007, there were 114 heat stroke cases that resulted in death on all levels of football from sandlot to the pros. From 2003-07, he attributed 16 deaths to heat stroke, and both cases in 2007 were in high school.
The most famous example of a professional football player dying from heat stroke is Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Korey Stringer in 2001. The coach’s defense may attempt to challenge the cause of death based upon Gilpin’s alleged use of a dietary supplement and a narcotic.
Specifically, Gilpin had taken the dietary supplement Creatine for a time but stopped in July when football practice started. Creatine is a natural compound found in the body that is also available as an over-the-counter supplement. Some athletes use it to increase muscle mass, though the side effects are still unclear. Gilpin was also taking Adderall, which is prescribed to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.