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Congress Could Investigate The Deaths Of Young Football Players From Heatstroke

The Atkins-Ingram family
A bill has been filed in the U.S. House that would create a commission to find ways to prevent high school and college athletes from dying from exertional heat stroke. The commission would be named after Braeden Bradforth.

What began as the tragic death of a young football player at Garden City Community College in western Kansas is now a matter for the United States Congress.

The bill filed Fridayin the U.S. House would create a commission to prevent "exertional heatstroke deaths among high school and collegiate athletes"— the cause of death for 19-year-old Braeden Bradforth.

"This initiative to protect is inspired by Braeden and in a very special way by Joanne’s incredible love and devotion to her son," said Rep. Chris Smith, a Republican who represents Bradforth's hometown of Neptune, New Jersey.

Smith is sponsoring the bill, which calls for a 12-member panel to be referred to as "Braeden's Commission." He announced the measure at a memorial for Bradforth on the first anniversary of his death, which was attended by friends, high school teammates and his mother, Joanne Atkins-Ingram.  

If the bill is passed, the president and congressional leadership would appoint commission members, all of whom would be required to have a medical background. 

"We are so thankful that Rep. Smith has heard our pleas for justice and acted on it by creating this very important bill which will hopefully spare the lives of other young athletes," family lawyer and friend Jill Greene told KCUR.

Rep. Roger Marshall represents Garden City, Kansas, and said he has been in contact with Smith about the bill and supports it. "Tragically, every year dozens of young athletes across the country die or have permanent, irreversible health repercussions as a result of heatstroke," Marshall said in a statement.

The legislation comes as a new study from the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicineconcluded conditioning is far more dangerous than the football games.  The paper said between 1998 and 2008, there were 187 non-traumatic deaths among high school and college football players.  "The majority of the fatalities — in fact, almost all of them — occurred during conditioning sessions, not during games," said Dr. Barry Boden, the study's lead author.

The legislation also comes as an investigation continues into Bradforth's death August 1, 2019, after his first practice at GCCC. The college is paying $100,000 to a national law firm to discover what happened around the teen's death.

Some things are known. KCUR discovered that Bradforth was forced to run 36, 50-yard sprints at an altitude he wasn't acclimated to. “That's a do or die drill," said Dr. Randy Eichner, former team doctor for University of Oklahoma football. "That is reckless endangerment.”

Also, players told KCUR and other media that they were not allowed to drink during conditioning drills. A summary of an internal investigation by GCCC said water was available, but it did not address when players were allowed to drink. The school has refused to release the entire probe. 

And finally, the report from emergency medical services and emails obtained by the Associated Press say that it took coaches 25 minutes to call paramedics after Bradforth was discovered slumped against the outside wall of a dorm. 

GCCC and former head coach Jeff Sims haven't said much in the year since Bradforth died. But Sims did talk during media day this week for the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association conference. “It’s unfortunate what happened, but God has a plan," Sims told KCUR. Sims, now the head coach at Missouri Southern University in Joplin, took no responsibility for the teen's death. "It didn't happen at football practice. It happened after football practice."

Sims said he will talk to investigators on August 29.

GCCC President Ryan Ruda said he is not sure when the external investigation will be done and would not commit to releasing the entire investigation.

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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