Lawsuit Looking for Answers to CF Death

It might be the quietest death of a player on the College football scene.  It happened during spring football practice on the campus of central Florida, and Coach George O’Leary is smack in the middle.

Attorneys for 19 year old Ereck Plancher’s parents say the school is responsible for their son’s death. They filed a lawsuit seeking punitive damages and are trying to prove that coaches pushed him excessively at the practice despite knowing he had sickle cell trait.

Two UCF football players have testified that O’Leary ordered all water and trainers off the field.  Plancher fell, then gasped for breath and could not respond verbally.  The player was unable to stand on his own and was carried off the field after the practice ended.

If, as the lawsuit alleges, O’Leary saw all of this going on then what could have been going through his mind?  O’Leary has testified that he did not see Plancher under stress before he collapsed and died.  Also the coach denied no water or trainers were ordered off the field, saying instead they were never asked to leave the field house.

This is a sad case, not only because of the death of a young man.  But also because it’s another black mark against coaches who try and use water as a prize for outstanding play rather than a necessary need.

Attorneys for the school say that Plancher died from a congenital heart defect and no one could have prevented his death. O’Leary and UCF officials deny having any culpability in Plancher’s death.  O’Leary added he knew Plancher had sickle cell trait and described the workout as “non-taxing.”

An autopsy found that Plancher died from complications of sickle cell trait.  This is a condition that causes blood cells to become misshapen and disrupt the body’s vascular system when it’s put under extreme stress, such as a football practice.  However it’s also something Plancher had been through many times in his life.

However now, in the discovery of depositions, it is unclear Plancher even knew he had the sickle cell trait.  Mary Vander Heiden, head trainer, testified she could not say with certainty that she told Plancher he tested positive for sickle cell trait.

Attorneys for the Plancher family say he was never informed about the condition or counseled about the complications associated with sickle cell trait.  Assistant trainer Robbie Jackson was on the field when Plancher collapsed. The head trainer said she told Jackson about the diagnosis and was shocked to hear Jackson said in a deposition that he did not know Plancher had sickle cell trait.

This might be a case of poor communication.  Or it might be a case of extreme neglect.  Whatever it is Ereck Plancher is dead and college football will take the hit for it.  These circumstances need to be examined, probed and investigated to make sure they never happen again.  And it must be done now, outside of a courtroom.

Sweeping it under the rug again will lead to more players dying.  Something we all agree should not happen.

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