Football Player’s Heat Stroke Death Leads to Indictment
This past August, Max Gilpin, a 15 year-old high school football player in Kentucky, died of heat stroke during a preseason practice. He is one of 6 athletes, which were confirmed to have died from heat stroke in the United States in 2008. Such deaths are relatively rare, but unfortunately seem to occur a few times each year. What makes this case so unique is that Max’s coach, David Stinson, has been indicted on charges of Reckless Homicide related to Max’s death. So you ask, what did Stinson do that was so terrible to bring about a murder charge? Force steroids on his players, ala the 1963 San Diego Chargers? Nope, nothing like that. He did exactly what thousands of other coaches across the country do every year. He made them run winds sprints.
Before I get ahead of myself, let’s look at what Reckless Homicide is. For our purposes, Reckless Homicide is generally defined as the conscious disregard of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a person may be killed. That is, the person must act in a way that is a gross deviation from the way that an ordinary person would act in the same or similar circumstances. This is where I have trouble with this case. Football coaches all across the country require their players to run wind sprints in full pads in hot August weather all the time. This is a generally accepted practice. Is it a completely safe activity? Certainly not. Extreme heat, coupled with hot gear can create a dangerous situation. However, until our sports culture changes significantly, it is still something that an ordinary football coach would do.
I have read some reports that suggest that the coach in this case may not have provided his players with enough water and did not call for emergency help as quickly as some would have liked. These claims seem to have arisen from Max’s parents in the course of their civil litigation against Mr. Stinson and the school district. On the other hand, there are allegations that Max had recently taken creatine and was on Adderall for ADHD. Creatine is a perfectly legal supplement and widely accepted as safe when used correctly. However, when used incorrectly it can cause dehydration. Adderall, also perfectly legal with a prescription is a stimulant, which also could have been a contributing factor in Max’s heat stroke.
The presentation of these facts will likey be key to the jury’s determination of guilt or innocence. Whatever the outcome, this case is the first of it’s kind and will likely cause coaches across the country to think twice before demanding that final wind sprint. I’ll try to update this article as the case progresses.
Agree, disagree, or think my writing stinks? Let me hear about it.
Matt Breeden (SportsLawGuru.com) is an internationally respected business advisor and attorney based in Indianapolis, IN. His practice is focused on Sports & Entertainment, Intellectual Property, Commercial and Corporate Law. He represents Sports & Entertainment properties, as well as many other businesses, in a variety of matters, including: Broadcast & Digital Media Agreements, Licensing Agreements, Sponsorship Agreements, Commercial Agreements, Athlete/Driver Contracts, Insurance & Risk Management, Employment Agreements, Litigation Management, Mergers & Acquisitions, Business Formation and Corporate Governance.