Editorials

Football run amok: After Kansas athlete’s heat death, coach says, ‘God has a plan’

How to stay cool in extreme heat

A message from Dr. Robin Ikeda, Acting Director of CDC's National Center for Environmental Health, on how you can prevent heat-related illnesses and deaths by staying cool, hydrated and informed.
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A message from Dr. Robin Ikeda, Acting Director of CDC's National Center for Environmental Health, on how you can prevent heat-related illnesses and deaths by staying cool, hydrated and informed.

One year ago, 19-year-old Braeden Bradforth died of exertional heatstroke at Garden City Community College in Kansas, hours after he took part in his first football practice there.

KCUR recently cornered Bradforth’s coach, Jeff Sims, who had once incorrectly blamed his player’s death on a blood clot, but who now has a different explanation.

“It’s unfortunate what happened, but God has a plan,” Sims told the radio station.

It was a stunning, horrific statement. Bradforth, who grew up in New Jersey, did not die as part of God’s plan. He died needlessly and painfully, a victim of a football culture run amok — a culture encouraged by adults like Jeff Sims.

If he had any shame, or any self-awareness, Sims would resign from his current job as head football coach at Missouri Southern State University. He’d get out of the coaching business. At minimum, he should apologize.

But Sims is just one part of a much bigger problem.

For months, Garden City Community College has stonewalled, providing no real answers in Bradforth’s death. After relentless pressure from politicians in New Jersey, and from Bradforth’s mother, Joanne Atkins-Ingram, the school agreed this year to a probe by an outside law firm.

Making the findings public would lift some of the stench from GCCC’s outrageous and inadequate response in this case. But it still won’t be enough. Fundamental reform is needed.

Viewers of the Netflix documentary series “Last Chance U” are familiar with the offensive, anti-educational antics that play out in some of the community college football programs in Kansas. The profane former Independence Community College football coach, for example, told a German player, “I’m your new Hitler.”

The state’s silence about this behavior, and Bradforth’s death, has been deafening and profoundly disappointing.

Kansas must take control of athletic programs at the state’s community colleges. The Board of Regents, or some similar body, should provide strict oversight to prevent these schools from becoming win-at-all-costs football factories.

An oversight board must institute a binding code of conduct; it must limit out-of-state recruiting; it must cap football budgets and oversee spending.

The Kansas Legislature should also demand answers from Garden City Community College about Bradforth’s death. Otherwise, state government will be complicit in a cover-up.

Some good things may yet come from this tragedy. The U.S. House is expected to consider a bill establishing a commission to study exertional heatstroke in young athletes and to offer guidelines for its treatment.

The legislation deserves support and should be passed before another football season concludes.

Last week, 200 people gathered in Bradforth’s hometown to remember the athlete and to continue demanding answers in his case. “There was not a dry eye in the house when Joanne spoke,” the family’s lawyer told The Star Editorial Board.

Everyone here should mourn the young man’s death. We should make sure it never happens again. And we should inoculate our community colleges from becoming infected with the worst of what ails big-time collegiate athletics.

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