A Florida jury found the UCF Athletics Association negligent in the case of Ereck Plancher, a Central Florida football player who died during conditioning drills in March 2008, and awarded his parents $10 million. The UCFAA was not given punitive damages for “gross negligence.” The UCFAA will appeal the decision.
Plancher suffered from sickle-cell trait, the heterozygous form of sickle cell disease. The condition is generally benign, except in cases of severe exertion (such as offseason football workouts). Players can, and do, play with the condition, but must be monitored and gradually acclimated to strenuous exercise. Plancher was tested for the condition by UCF.
The freshman collapsed in a team huddle after practice on March 18, 2008. UCF’s AD initially called the workout “non-taxing” and said it lasted 10 minutes and 26 seconds. The actual workout was “75 minutes of weightlifting; 10 minutes of stretching; an agility course, or mat drilles, lasting “exactly 10 minutes, 26 seconds”; two 18-second sprints, a team huddle and some calisthenics.”
The autopsy and a cardiologist confirmed that Plancher died from complications related to the sickle cell trait. The trait has been linked to multiple deaths from off-season football workouts. Three schools – Florida State, Missouri and Rice – settled cases. Ole Miss has another wrongful death suit pending.
UCFAA experts and attorneys argued that Plancher died from an undiagnosed heart condition, fibromuscular dysplasia, which is a thickening of the heart muscle. According to the defense cardiologist, there was no scientific basis for the claim and the symptoms did not match the “virtually instantaneous” death associated with a heart condition. He termed it “possible” but not probable, as tests could not completely rule it out.
George O’Leary does not come off well in this. Four UCF players told the Orlando Sentinel Plancher was “woozy and staggering” toward the end of the drills and said Plancher was “cursed at and singled out by O’Leary for lack of effort.” Another former player, Anthony Davis, testified that O’Leary ordered water and trainers off the field during the workout. He’s now, directly or indirectly, linked to a player’s wrongful death. O’Leary had another player, running back Brandon Davis, hospitalized with acute kidney failure months afterward for being dehydrated during a workout.
Football on the field is dangerous enough. Hopefully, this verdict will help eradicate the culture of sadistic offseason workouts breeding masculinity.
[Photo via Getty]