In 2014, Cal Football and the family of Ted Agu suffered an unfathomable loss when Agu suddenly passed away during a conditioning drill. Nearly two years later, we're beginning to get some answers courtesy of the SF Chronicle.
Not only did Cal acknowledge that "its negligence was a substantial factor" in the tragedy, but the article also reveals some issues with Cal handling and transferring his medical records as well as deep mistrust that fractured the team.
Strength and conditioning coach Damon Harrington was challenging the players with a tough new workout by having groups of players hold onto a rope and sprint up and down hills.
Head coach Sonny Dykes, who worked with Harrington at Louisiana Tech, had recruited him to join the Cal program a year before. Many players contrasted Harrington's workouts with those of his predecessor, who focused more on skills and agility.
"His are a whole different type of workout," former defensive end Sione Sina said in a deposition, referring to Harrington's workouts. "His are like some down South mental toughness. ... It's like, we got to push you to your edge and see if you can go even further."
The players allege that Agu's visible exhaustion was ignored by the staff; the staff claims they intervened responsibly when the players--and Agu himself--pushed to continue the exercise. This becomes critical because of complications associated with Agu's sickle cell trait.
Documents filed in the lawsuit show that Cal football's head physician, Dr. Casey Batten, informed coaches and trainers that Agu carried the trait and instructed them in an annual briefing that they should immediately cease such an athlete's activity should any warning signs appear.
The article details the exhausting workout with accounts from Matt Cochran, Daniel Lasco, Jacobi Hunter and Trey Cheek. I do find this section of the article to be somewhat misleading; it paints the workout session to be some hellacious and sadistic punishment, but I'd bet there isn't a single college football program that doesn't have exercises designed to push their players to their limits. The distinction is that Agu should have been monitored more closely and with different standards to account for his sickle cell trait. This is particularly disturbing given the revelation that the then–head football trainer—Robert Jackson—was involved with the 2008 death of a student-athlete at UCF who was diagnosed with sickle cell trait.
The tragedy also resulted in a great divide in the team—resulting in a lack of trust and driving away some players.
During a series of team meetings about Agu's death, according to players who were there, some challenged football staffers on what went wrong and why paramedics didn't arrive sooner.
"We all lost a lot of trust in the coaches," Cheek, the cornerback, said in an interview. Multiple players, including Hunter, said they transferred to other schools or quit the team because of how football staffers handled Agu's death.
"We didn't have a grieving process," Hunter testified. "They just kind of, ‘Well, we need to move on,' instead of giving the respect where it was due and the honor where it was needed."
Cal has acknowledged their contributions to Agu's untimely passing due to their negligence, but there is an ongoing dispute about whether or not the university properly disclosed Agu's condition to the pathologist and coroner, as well as the transfer of two players' interviews to the coroner's bureau. The university must also reach a settlement with Agu's family, who are focused on "reform and meaningful change" to keep these tragedies from happening again.