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Pressure Builds On Kansas Community College Over Football Player's Death

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3
It appears Joanne Atkins-Ingram will meet with Garden City Community College officials about the death of her son following a football practice last August.

It has been eight months since 19-year-old Braeden Bradforth collapsed and died after a football workout at Garden City Community College (GCCC).

Since then, the college has said little about the teen's death from exertional heat stroke after a grueling practice.

But that wall of silence may be breaking. "Kansas, can you hear me now?" the family's lawyer Jill Greene asked during a town hall meeting Thursday night at Friendship Baptist Church in Asbury Park, New Jersey. "Maybe we have a bad connection. We need to fix that."

Credit P. Kenneth Burns
Atkins-Ingram addresses a packed church in Asbury Park, New Jersey, Thursday night. Almost 100 people showed up to support the family.

The first sign that communication has been fixed between Bradforth's home in Neptune, New Jersey, and GCCC came from Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey. He told the 100 people gathered at the church that GCCC President Ryan Ruda has agreed to a meeting with Bradforth's mom, Joanne Atkins-Ingram.

GCCC said the meeting is set for April 26, but Greene says neither she nor Atkins-Ingram has agreed to that date.

The college conducted an internal review into the teen's death but has not publicly released it. That's something that frustrates the family and the congressman. "What happened during that fateful day, we still don't know," Smith said.

Smith also said he will propose legislation to create a commission to investigate the deaths of college football players. At least 30 players have died from workouts since 2000, according to a report from HBO’s Real Sports.

Bradforthdied from “exertional heat stroke” at 11:06 p.m. Aug. 1, according to an autopsy. He died two hours after his second practice following his arrival in Garden City. It was 84 degrees at that practice, generally hotter than the Jersey shore at night. And he was, for the first time in his life, 2,800 feet above sea level. The heat and elevation most likely contributed to his death, Dr. Randy Eichner told KCUR. Eichner was the long-time football team physician at the University of Oklahoma.

Smith has been involved in the Bradforth case for weeks. He has written GCCC demanding an independent investigation into the young man's death. The college's only response was that it couldn't respond because it expects to be sued.

The congressman sent a similar letter to Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly. Kelly's spokesperson did not immediately return a call seeking comment. 

But another New Jersey congressman joined the battle Thursday night.

Democrat Rep. Frank Pallone, the powerful chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said his panel will be looking into the safety of college football players. Two years ago that committee heard from the NCAA about the college basketball scandal triggered by a federal criminal case in New York.

Credit The family
Bradforth and his mother after his graduation from Neptune High School on the Jersey shore.

"It goes to show that, Republican, Democrat, we're all working together," Atkins-Ingram told KCUR after the church event Thursday. "It gives me a new renewed faith in politics because you don't have to fight about everything when there's a common goal."

The family blames former GCCC head football coach Jeff Sims for Bradforth's death. KCUR discovered that Bradforth and his teammates were made to run 36, 50-yard sprints. “That’s a do-or-die drill,” Eichner told KCUR. “That is reckless endangerment.”

Players were also denied water during practice.

Sims left GCCC after last season and is now the head coach at Missouri Southern University in Joplin.

Right after Bradforth's death, Sims told the media the teen died from a blood clot and it was an "act of God."

The autopsy revealed it was exertional heat stroke.

Sims has refused to comment on the autopsy, why he denied water during conditioning drills or whether he continues that practice at his new job at Missouri Southern.

Sam Zeffis KCUR's metro reporter. You can follow Sam on Twitter @samzeff.

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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