The death of Max Gilpin: was it a crime?
For all his troubles, shit-canned Covenant School coach Micah Grimes of 100-zip fame at least can feel good he’s not Jason David Stinson.
As I mentioned here a few days ago, Stinson, the head football coach at Pleasure Ridge Park High School in Louisville, Ky., was indicted Jan. 22 on reckless homicide charges after one of his players, 15-year-old Max Gilpin, collapsed and died during practice. Though no autopsy was performed, Gilpin was deemed to have died of heat stroke. His temperature reached 107 degrees on a day with a 94-degree heat index. Stinson is believed to be the first coach indicted based on the death of one of his players during practice or a game.
Before I do a bloodless lawyer-type analysis of what’s going on — which has to be done considering Gilpin’s parents have sued and because of the criminal case — I’ll state the obvious: this is a horrible tragedy for everyone involved. Even as a parent, I can only imagine the devastation, heartache and hurt Max Gilpin’s parents must feel. Even as a youth coach, I can only imagine the guilt — not the criminal kind — and regret Stinson must feel. Not to mention how Gilpin’s teammates and friends, especially those who saw him collapse Aug. 20 only to die three days later, must feel.
However, because the legal system is involved, because the supporters of Gilpin and Stinson, as well as Gilpin’s family and Stinson himself, are being very public about their version of events, and because a conviction of Stinson could have profound effects (good and bad) on how youth coaches conduct their business, a bloodless lawyer-type analysis is what is going to happen.
(By the way, I don’t want to be like Nancy Grace here, going on and on about Caylee Anthony and Natalee Holloway and any other white woman with two e’s at the end of her first name, screaming at the camera and at her guests. I’m going back and forth between Dallas Academy and the Kentucky death because those are the biggest youth sports stories going at the moment. Plus, I’m not going to yell at anybody. At least, not until I get my webcam and start v-logging.)
This is why I haven’t posted my picture yet.
In Sunday’s Louisville Courier-Journal, Gilpin’s parents told their side of the story. Gilpin’s father, Jeff, said he arrived at the end of practice to see players running, and was told the coach was upset because they hadn’t practiced hard enough, and had not come back soon enough from a water break. He said it was 18 to 25 minutes before a coach suggested calling 911. He didn’t think of blaming the coaches initially, but he and his ex-wife, Michele Crockett (Max’s mother) changed their minds.
Gilpin said he wanted to support the coaches, some of whom “were the fathers of Max’s best friends.” But in the months since, he has felt a growing need to find out why Max died. After the Jefferson County grand jury’s decision to indict Stinson, Gilpin “felt betrayed by the coach, and I felt sad for Max.”
“If they found enough criminal evidence to prosecute him, I want him to be prosecuted,” Gilpin said.
Crockett said the indictment “was like someone was finally listening” to her desire to pursue the truth.
“This is not something that I pushed or conjured up,” she said. “I just want to know what happened.”
Gilpin and Crockett also say they are frustrated that the school district’s investigation hasn’t been completed.
“I don’t understand the holdup — it’s been five months,” Crockett said.
The district’s investigation is continuing, spokeswoman Lauren Roberts said Friday. Superintendent Sheldon Berman couldn’t be reached for comment.
Jeff Gilpin also addressed rumors about medications Max was taking. Yes, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Max was taking creatine, a muscle builder, but stopped one month before practice. And Max was taking Adderall, commonly prescribed for ADHD. The story doesn’t say he was diagnosed with it, but Jeff Gilpin said Max’s Adderall prescription was noted on his school physical forms.
Why does it matter what Max would have been taking? Because one side effect of creatine AND Adderall is dehydration. I’m sure Stinson’s lawyers will be pouncing on that to explain why Max, and only Max, suffered severely at that day’s practice. (Another player collapsed in the heat, but recovered quickly. No other team members reported suffering any heat-related medical problems.)
It seems like any criminal case will rest on whether Stinson denied water in violation of Kentucky High School Athletic Association rules governing water breaks during extreme heat. (The Louisville school district says he didn’t.) It also could rest on whether Stinson knew about Max Gilpin’s supplement and medication history, and failed to heed warnings that perhaps he needed extra water. After all, Stinson is hardly the first coach to call for running, even extra running, on a hot day. Particularly in preseason practice, the workouts are as much about conditioning as they are learning how to play football. You have to know as a coach and teammate how much activity a player can stand.
So I highly doubt Stinson will get convicted.
However, I don’t let him off the hook. When it’s a 94-degree heat index, common sense says players under pounds of pads, or even players who aren’t, need extra water breaks. Also, punishing players for not practicing hard enough in that weather is a huge injury risk. I’m sure Stinson, a former high school and college football player, got put through that wringer numerous times, but that doesn’t mean it was right, nor that it is even effective. I’m not moved by Stinson and his coaches’ reported statement that they were going to make the players run until some quit the team — that’s the kind of coach bloviation that’s endemic to preseason workouts. However, I am moved by the idea that Stinson might have been ignorant that there’s a fine line between pushing your team to its limits and pushing them for the sake of being an asshole.
Speaking of assholery, while I understand Stinson has supporters of his own, the mantra that he is a “man of God” makes me want to run laps in the heat until I vomit.
God wants you to keep coaching. (Photo illustration appears on a Facebook group supporting Stinson.)
If you look at the video that is posted with this Courier-Journal story on a rally outside Stinson’s home, you’ll see how uncomfortably close the cult of the coach rubs up against the Christian faith. Stinson, who did not organize the rally, reads a verse of scripture. A supporter has a sign saying “Trust the Lord.” Stinson makes a point of saying no matter what happens, “God is good.”
Um, Coach Stinson, as far as I know, God’s name is not on the indictment sheet, so His is not the goodness on trial here.