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SPORTS MEDICINE: Right people must still do right thing

SPORTS MEDICINE: Right people must still do right thing


The editorial headline read, “Full-time athletic trainers can no longer be optional.”

Published last week, it did not appear in the Journal of Athletic Training or a similar sports medicine publication but in Coach & AD, a periodical that describes itself as, “your resource for building powerful sports programs.”

Specifically, Coach & AD editor Kevin Hoffman wrote, “No single individual holds as much value to an athletic program.

“That’s not to diminish the importance of coaches, administrators, or strength professionals,” Hoffman explained, “but an athletic trainer literally makes the difference between life and death in emergency situations.”

Unfortunately, according to an annual survey conducted by Coach & AD, only 52% of high school coaches enjoy access to a full-time athletic trainer.

Still, having an athletic trainer on staff is no guarantee of increased safety for athletes. Expected to look after the best interests of the athletes for whom they care, athletic trainers must fulfill those expectations full time.

In September of last year in this space, I summarized the “Walters Report,” the independent investigation authorized by the University of Maryland in the wake of the heat-related death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair just three months earlier. Authored by former University of South Carolina head athletic trainer Rod Walters, the report painted a disturbing picture of an ill-prepared Terrapin sports performance and sports medicine staff that compounded its shortcomings with inaction in the face of crisis.

In the wake of the report, multiple athletic trainers and head football coach DJ Durkin were terminated by Maryland. Head strength and conditioning coach Rick Court had resigned prior to the release of the report.

Not only did Walters assign blame, he also made a number of recommendations for the Maryland athletic department that really were a blueprint for any athletic department — high school or college — to follow.

Unfortunately, Walters’ words were seven weeks too late for another young lineman, Garden City Community College (KS) defensive tackle Braeden Bradforth.

On Aug. 1, 2018, just two days following his arrival on campus from New Jersey, the freshman collapsed outside his dormitory after completing an unusually strenuous conditioning test. Within an hour, he would be dead.

A year ago, I assumed I would never have to read another “Walters Report.” However, as last month ended, Garden City CC released its “Report of Independent Investigation, Death of Braeden Bradforth,” co-authored by Walters and Seattle attorney Randy Aliment.

The scathing narrative spared nobody associated with the tragedy, including the football staff, the head athletic trainer, the EMS paramedics, and the emergency department staff at the hospital to which Bradforth was transported for failing “to recognize and treat an obvious case of exertional heat illness.”

Had heat stroke been recognized in a timely manner, the simple of step of cold water immersion would have saved Bradforth’s life.

Yet, heat stroke would not have occurred if only one professional had stepped in after recognizing that Bradforth was in no condition to fully participate in the test.

Along those lines, Walters and Aliment cited a “failure to hire a strength and conditioning coach to monitor appropriate level of fitness for student-athletes … prior to strenuous activity.”

Of course the presence of a strength and conditioning coach is no guarantee of safety either. Earlier this month, the University of Houston released a report on its internal audit of the Cougar women’s soccer program, in the wake of two separate incidents where athletes suffered rhabdomyolysis last year and this. Rhabdomyolysis is a condition caused by over-exertion that leads to a massive breakdown in muscle tissue, which in turn triggers the release of kidney-damaging protein to the blood.

While the report was released just weeks ago, Houston terminated the strength and conditioning coach for the women’s soccer team in February, just days after the second incident.

After the first incident, the Houston report noted, “(The) sports medicine (department) issued guidelines regarding excessive workouts and workouts during transition periods (e.g. return from Winter break). The (strength coach) ignored these guidelines and took responsibility for the January 2019 soccer workout.”

Both the Houston report and the one commissioned by Garden City CC should be required reading for administrators, athletic trainers, coaches, and team physicians at all levels of sport.

For the Houston report, go to

For the latest Walters report, go to

John Doherty is a licensed athletic trainer and physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT.


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