KENTUCKY HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL COACH ACQUITTED IN 90 MINUTES; LESSONS TO BE LEARNED

                                Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

It took a jury only about 90 minutes to acquit former high school football coach Jason Stinson of felony charges of reckless homicide and wanton endangerment in the death of sophomore football player Max Gilpin last year.  While the verdict was not at all surprising (see Kallas Remarks, 9/14/09 – The Prosecution Rests; Hard to Believe a Jury Will Convict a Kentucky High School Football Coach of Reckless Homicide), its speed was somewhat surprising.  But there are no winners here, even though Coach Stinson keeps his freedom and will probably coach football again.

 THE CONFLICTING EVIDENCE

 As previously discussed in the prior column, there was just too much conflicting evidence not to give rise to lots of reasonable doubt.  Experts were at both ends of the spectrum; the prosecution’s expert said Max Gilpin’s life could have easily been saved (although that wasn’t really the issue in the criminal trial of a football coach); the defense came forward with its own experts who stated that this was a terrible accident, not a homicide.  If this were a sporting event, you could have turned your TV sets off right there since dueling experts (especially very credible ones on the defense side) almost always hurts the prosecution. 

 That’s what happened in this case.

 But there was lots more conflict.  Some players thought it was an amazingly tough practice.  Others thought it was hard but not brutal.  Max Gilpin’s father (who was there on that fateful day) said, after the tragedy, that the coaches had done nothing wrong.  But he would later change his mind and join in a civil suit (still pending, by the way) against Stinson and other coaches.  Some parents at a neighboring soccer game were appalled at the way practice was conducted.  Other people thought it was “just football.”  The medical issues (was Max Gilpin still taking creatine?; did the Adderall he was taking contribute to his death?; was he sick the night before and day of his death?) gave room for some good defense-lawyering and some difficult hoops for prosecutors to try and jump through.

 It was hard to expect a conviction on this kind of first-time prosecution.  And, not surprisingly, there wasn’t one.

 LESSONS TO BE LEARNED IN THE WAKE OF THIS TRAGEDY

 Well, there are plenty of them.  Michele Gilpin, Max’s mother, said after the trial, that the purpose of the trial was to “bring awareness” to these issues.  While one could argue that the pending civil suit would have brought awareness, nobody can argue that the bringing of a novel criminal case got the attention of coaches, parents and school districts all over the country.  Changes have already been, and will be, made in school districts all over the country.

For example, Ms. Gilpin is correct when she said, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal, that “[t]here’s already been so many changes because of this.”   Jeff Gilpin correctly added to that statement “in a positive way.”

And they are both right.  Already in Kentucky, it is now a law (in the wake of Max’s death) that high school coaches must complete training in sports safety and first aid for heat stroke emergencies.  It seems that, across the country, virtually everybody associated with high school and even college sports is simply more aware of the issues.  In the New York area, most coaches and athletic directors, already vigilant in the 21st century at protecting our youth (the “Junction Boys” days are long gone, although the mentality, sometimes, is still around), are going out of their way to take even more precautions.

In the wake of the death of Minnesota Viking Korey Stringer and now, Max Gilpin, there is simply a higher level of awareness on these issues.

CAN WE SOLVE THE NO-TRAINER PROBLEM NOW?

One of the biggest problems that confronts Kentucky and many other states (including, surprisingly, New York) is that there is no mandatory requirement that a certified athletic trainer be in the employ of a high school.  If one really good thing comes out of the Max Gilpin tragedy, it will be a national movement to require that trainers be at all high schools during practices and games.  While many will argue that it’s simply economically unfeasible to do this, it is submitted here that school districts and/or booster clubs must find a way to get this expense into the school budget and/or find a way to pay for it through other means.

It’s simply a huge hole that must be filled sooner rather than later.  The child’s life you save may be that of your own child.       

© Copyright 2009 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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