Dave Helling

This Kansas football player died from heatstroke. Why doesn’t his family have answers?

New Jersey teenager Braeden Bradforth died last summer in Garden City, Kansas, after football practice on a humid August day. His family and friends want to know why.

They deserve an answer, and the state should provide it. Sadly, officials appear to be ducking that responsibility.

Bradforth, a 300-pound athlete, died after his second practice at Garden City Community College. He had run a setries of sprints in the summer heat, then collapsed outside his dorm room.

He died in a hospital emergency room shortly after 11 p.m.

His coach at the time, Jeff Sims, said a blood clot might have played a role. “Something that could have happened, anytime or anywhere,” he told Sports Illustrated last year.

Except that wasn’t what killed the 19-year-old freshman. An autopsy later confirmed Bradforth died of exertional heatstroke, which means he ran himself to death, under adult supervision and direction, just hours after beginning his college football career.

Bradforth had just arrived in Kansas and was practicing in unfamiliar conditions, which may have contributed to his illness.

“I feel hurt,” Bradforth’s mother, Joanne Atkins-Ingram, recently told KCUR. “I feel these are adults who are responsible for my child.”

Yes, they were. And other adults in positions of authority must now step forward to give a full accounting of this potentially preventable tragedy.

The college won’t do it. Garden City authorities apparently never investigated Bradforth’s death. The school has issued a few non-committal statements and conducted its own review of the teenager’s death, but those findings are still secret.

Coach Sims? He’s moved on to a new job at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin. He’s the new head football coach. He’s got nothing more to say about Braeden Bradforth.

“We believe this is a matter for Garden City Community College and the Bradforth family to resolve,” the school said in a statement.

New Jersey state Sen. Vic Gopal, a Democrat, has had enough. In late January, he wrote Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, asking for a full investigation of the death and the “professional practices” at the community college.

Bradforth’s “time was cut short by what may have been carelessness and a callous disregard for safety by those (who) were entrusted to care for him,” Gopal wrote.

Late Wednesday, Schmidt’s office said he would not take up the case.

“The circumstances surrounding Braeden’s death are not within the civil investigative purview of the Kansas attorney general,” a spokesman said. Local authorities will have to take up the matter, the office said in a letter to the New Jersey senator.

That decision is disappointing. So is a Wednesday statement from the Kansas Board of Regents, which said it won’t look into the tragedy despite its supervisory role with Kansas community colleges.

A spokesman for the board said local trustees have the responsibility to govern the school.

Buck-passing is alive and well in Topeka.

The National Junior College Athletic Association, which counts Garden City as a member, should also pursue the case. It declined to comment Wednesday.

College athletics is a mess, from top to bottom. Most of the time that means casual hypocrisy, fraud, improper academic behavior and of course, millions of tainted dollars. It’s a disgrace.

In Garden City, though, a young man died. That’s beyond disgraceful. We need to know what happened, and the people responsible must be held to account.

Dave Helling has covered politics in Kansas and Missouri for four decades. He has worked in television news, and is a regular contributor to local broadcast programs. Helling writes editorials for the Star, and a weekly column. He was awarded the 2018 ASNE Burl Osborne award for editorial leadership.
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