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On August 20, 2008, Max Gilpin collapsed at football practice due to heat stroke. Gilpin died three days later at a Louisville hospital. Pleasure Ridge Park football coach David Jason Stinson was charged with reckless homicide and wanton endangerment in Kentucky.
"Doctors at Kosair Children's Hospital in Louisville took Gilpin's temperature more than an hour after he collapsed and measured it at
107 degrees. [An expert] said any extended period with a body temperature over about 105 degrees can be harmful." (Fox News)
Evidently Coach Stinson had the players conditioning for 40 minutes without a mandatory break. I addressed the issue of hydration and the risk of heat stroke in my book Coaching Freshman and Junior Varsity High School Football.
Not only do you need to protect yourself against litigation, you need to protect your players. They may not ask you if they can get water for fear or their coach thinking their wimpy or soft. It's your responsibility to make sure they're hydrated.
I recommended coaches join the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) so that you would know the safety guidelines they recommend for football: namely, heatstroke. Here are the relevant passages:
If one of your players gets hurt or some scandal of another natures arises, compliance with these rules and guidelines is your best defense. Typically, the plaintiff's attorney in a civil suit will obtain copies of the rules or guidelines pertinent to the lawsuit. Then they will question you about your compliance with thoe rules in depositions and in court in front of a jduge and possibly a jury.
Answering "I was not aware of that," or "I am not a member of that organization," etc., will sound really lame. It will sounds like you wer a non-professional coach and your player suffered heat stroke or paralysis or whatever as a result of your lack of professionalism and care.
Here's a sample of how the questioning might go in a heat-stroke case.
Player's lawyer — Are you a member of the American Football Coaches Association?
You — No.
Player's lawyer — Why not?
You — No particular reason.
Player's lawyer — Did you know of the existence of the American Football Coaches Association?
You — I've heard of it.
Player's lawyer — Were you unable to afford the $60 annual dues?
You — No, I could afford $60.
Player's lawyer — Would you be surprised to learn that the AFCA promulgates annual guidelines on how to prvent heat stroke among your players?
You — No. I guess not.
Player's lawyer — Your honor, I offer Plaintiff's exhibits 1 through 5, copies of the AFCA's last five years of annual Proceedings that are sent to each AFCA member.
Judge — Plaintiff's Exhibits 1 through 5 are admitted without objection.
Player's lawyer — Coach, I call your attention to page 151 of the 2005 AFCA Proceedings. Please read the highlighted portion to the court.
You — [Reading] "2. Acclimatize athletes to heat gradually by providing graduated practice sessions for the first seven to ten days and other abnormally hot or humid days."
Player's lawyer — Have you ever used the phrase "Hell Week?"
You — Yes.
Player's lawyer — What does it refer to?
You — Our first week of summer conditioning in shorts and tee shirts and helmets.
Player's lawyer — Please read the next numbered item in the AFCA Proceedings.
You — [Reading] "3. KNow both the temperature and the humidity since it is more difficult for the body to cool itself in high humidity. Use of a sling psychrometer is recommended to measure the relative humidity and anytime the wet-bulb is over 78 degrees practices should be altered."
Player's lawyer — Did you use a sling psychrometer on the day my client keeled over with heat stroke?
You — I have never heard of a sling psychrometer.
Player's lawyer — I asked if you used one that day.
You — No.
Player's lawyer — Did you alter your normal practice routine that day due to heat or humidity?
You — No. It's always hot and humid in the summer.
Player's lawyer — Your honor, I ask the Court to take judicial notice of the official weather report from the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration for that date.
Judge — Without objection so ordered.
Player's lawyer — Please read the wet-bulb temperature that is highlighted.
You — [Reading[ "83 degree at 2:00 PM."
I could go on but I think that's probably enough to give you the idea. The health and safety of your players are extremely important. So is avoiding losing your life savings and career for lack of effort to take care of such responsibilities in addiotn to the doing-your-Bill-Walsh-imitation part of the job. Actuall, Bill Walsh probably had a guy with a sling psychrometer at every practice.