When we were in high school and playing football, we were fortunate in that our coach constantly pounded into our heads the importance of hydration, even past the point that we figured it was doing any good. Of the aspects of maturation that help a 14-year-old along his disjointed journey into manhood, a grown man yelling between wind sprints and blocking drills about the need for clear urine is way up there.
So we sort of took it for granted that all coaches felt the same way about making water readily available, especially during the grueling two-a-days of summer before the season began. Not so, apparently, as a Louisville-area high school is still reeling from the death of Max Gilpin, a 15-year-old player who was one of two players who collapsed during practice last summer. Worse yet, the coach is about to stand trial for reckless homicide in the incident.
According to the USA TODAY, head coach David Stinson isn’t accused of intentional or malicious acts in Gilpin’s death, but he’s still facing a lengthy prison sentence if convicted:
David Jason Stinson was indicted Thursday by a Jefferson County grand jury in the death of sophomore lineman Max Gilpin, who collapsed Aug. 20 and died three days later at Kosair Children’s Hospital, after his body temperature had reached 107 degrees.
It’s the first time a criminal charge has been filed in such a case involving a high school or college coach in the United States, according to sports experts.
As the numerous R.I.P. videos on YouTube make readily apparent, this wasn’t an issue of sudden organ failure on account of sickle cell trait - by far the most common cause of these types of football practice fatalities - because, well, Gilpin was white.
In fact, the issue at hand appears to be that of the coaches denying the players water under - according to whom you ask - a varying amount of unreasonable demand:
Gilpin and a second player collapsed during the practice in which coaches were alleged to have withheld water and continued to run players on a day when the heat index reached 94 degrees. The second player, a senior, spent two days in the hospital.
Both Jefferson County Public Schools and Louisville Metro Police investigated Gilpin’s death after The Courier-Journal reported that bystanders near the practice field heard coaches deny the players water. Other witnesses heard the coaches say they would run the players until someone quit the team.
Okay. That sounds bad. Very bad. But the likelihood that the coaches were literally going to wait until someone quit is slim at best. It’s typical coachspeak hyperbole, and par for the course for practices. It’s unfortunate, and coaches will struggle to assert that they weren’t to be taken literally, but rest assured that the players also expected that the drill would end within a reasonable time. And hey, if conditioning were meant to be easy, it wouldn’t be effective. These are unfortunate facts, but they’re facts all the same.
Stinson has the support of his school district and more coaching federations than you’ve ever heard of; all told, they’ve donated over $90,000 to his legal defense fund. But unless there are some ardently football-sympathetic jurors at the trial (not an implausible possibility by any stretch), the fact that two players collapsed and had significant medical issues from the incident may be enough to swing a conviction, even if it’s for the lesser-but-still-sounds-awful charge of wanton endangerment.
It’s a scary precedent to set for coaches, as they’ve been saying in his defense. The details could be too much for a juror to excuse, though - especially if they’re a parent.