Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

As the Stinson turns

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A lot has happened since the last time we discussed David Jason Stinson, the Louisville high school football coach facing criminal prosecution and a civil lawsuit after one of his players, Max Gilpin, collapsed in practice and died.

To summarize what’s happened in the last month, ever since Stinson refused to answer questions at his deposition for the civil lawsuit:

Feb. 16: Pleasure Ridge Park High School principal David Johnson, Stinson’s boss and a former football coach at the school, didn’t do himself or his football coach any favors by saying during his deposition that he never investigated what happened during that fateful Aug. 20, 2008, practice — bad enough, except he emailed one parent that he had conducted a “thorough investigation.” He also said he deleted any parent emails because they appeared to be “hate mail” — even though, as the aforementioned sentence shows, he responded to messages from parents describing what they saw and heard at that football practice. Finally, Johnson said athletic director Craig Webb didn’t tell him about Gilpin’s collapse until 18 hours after it happened. Webb told the school district athletic director, as is protocol. Gilpin died of septic shock on Aug. 23, three days after his collapse. (Full deposition, thanks to the Louisville Courier-Journal, is here.)

Feb. 19: Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Sheldon Berman says his office will look at how Johnson handled the Gilpin incident. “[W]e’re studying the deposition and working with him on some of the issues,” he said. One issue: trying to recover the emails Johnson deleted. However, Berman also told the Courier-Journal that the district began investigating the Gilpin case two days after it happened, and that information it gathered contradicts other accounts of Stinson and his assistants denying players water and running them excessively on a day the heat index hit 94.

Feb. 22: A Louisville judge approves adding Johnson, Webb and assistant football coach Josh Lightle as defendents in the civil suit, joining Stinson and five other assistants. The judge also demands the school district hand over its internal investigation.

Feb. 24: The Kentucky House Education Committee clears legislation that would require ice pools at all high school practices and games when the heat index is 94 degrees or above; requires coaches to be trained in the use of automatic external defibrillators for treating cardiac arrest (they already must know CPR); encourages school boards to purchase the devices and make them available at practices at games; and requires the Kentucky High School Athletic Association to revise its heat policy to consider pollution levels on hot days. The Kentucky School Boards Association supports the bill, filed because of Gilpin’s death.

March 2: The full House passes the bill, but without the ice-pool requirement. The bill’s sponsor withdrew on advice of the Kentucky Medical Association, which said it would help the state board of education develop protocol for treating overheating. Emergency physicians worried that ice pools would not be an effective treatment in all cases.

March 2: The prosecution turns over its evidence to Stinson’s defense (he has pleaded not guilty to reckless homicide). The most damning evidence (drawn from witness interviews) is that despite the hot day, Stinson denied his players water as he added “gassers” (sprints) at the end of practice because he though his players weren’t hustling enough. Players said Stinson called anyone who couldn’t finish the gassers a “coward.” After Gilpin collapsed, Stinson told players to stay away from him “because you’re not his mother or his nurse.”  Stinson told players he was going to run them until somebody quits, and didn’t let anyone take a water break until the end — and then only briefly.

(An editorial comment here. I’m coaching junior kids in basketball, and believe you me I understand the frustration when you have a group of kids who are farting around or otherwise uninspired. And that’s even though my livelihood and ability to pay my mortgage aren’t predicated on their performance. Even if what the prosecution says is true, a lot of coaches are going to look at what Stinson did and say for the grace of God goes I. Also, they’re going to wonder how to punish players who aren’t sufficiently focused, because extra running is a pretty common penalty. This is why a lot of coaches, sickened as they may be over Gilpin’s death, would see the criminal and civil cases as attacks on their authority and profession.)

March 4: Berman tells the Courier-Journal that Stinson, suspended from coaching and reassigned to noninstructional status since his Jan. 21 indictment, will not be back as head football coach. The newspaper notes that it hopes, what with Pleasure Ridge Park being a public school and all, that religion doesn’t play a part again in whom Johnson hires as football coach. It cites this Aug. 25 response, revealed in his civil suit deposition, that Johnson sent to a parent email (apparently it wasn’t hate mail) about Stinson’s qualifications:  “Our head football coach was hired based not only on his knowledge of football, but also because of his strong Christian beliefs and integrity toward his job and the treatment of all who know him.”

March 7: Former Kentucky medical examiner George Nichols, hired by Stinson’s defense for the civil suit, says it wasn’t heat stroke that killed Gilpin. It was Adderall, a drug prescribed for ADHD that includes an amphetamine, which causes overheating. (Nichols has made a career out of being a medical expert for the defense since leaving public service.) The Courier-Journal shows another doctor the hospital records on Gilpin, and he agrees with Nichols. Having a jury (or juries) accept this finding would be huge for Stinson. The case against him is predicated on his denying water on an excessively hot day. If the death is blamed on Adderall, then Stinson is likely off the hook. Maybe a giant douchenozzle, but off the hook.

March 9: Despite supportive testimony from Kentucky football coach Rich Brooks, the Kentucky Senate Education committee waters down the Gilpin-related bill. Instead, it recommends a study on the issue, given the conflicting medical information on how to treat heat-related injuries, and superintendents’ concern about the cost of buying all those defibrillators and providing all that safety training.

March 13: An athletics safety bill  makes it  through the Kentucky legislature and goes to the governor. It requires coaches to get more extensive emergency medical training. That is put back into the bill after legislators have second thoughts about what Brooks said. It’s been a long time since anything a University of Kentucky football coach said was taken seriously.

And now you may consider yourself up-to-date.

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