Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Documents show Missouri missteps in O’Neal death


— University of Missouri officials failed to follow policies for medical emergencies when freshman linebacker Aaron O’Neal collapsed and later died during a 2005 summer workout, according to legal documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The university agreed in March to pay $2 million to O’Neal’s parents to settle a lawsuit. But the sworn testimony of several key university employees who supervised the workout show a series of missteps.

Athletic department employees also showed an unfamiliarity with potential exercise-induced complications caused by sickle cell trait despite NCAA, school and professional association requirements. O’Neal carried the inherited blood disorder that affects an estimated 8 percent to 10 percent of African-Americans.

The school’s strength and conditioning director, who supervised the workout, testified he lacked the necessary professional certification to be hired.

And the athletic department’s sports medicine director rejected requests from concerned colleagues and players to examine the 19-year-old reserve linebacker even after he exhibited signs of medical distress, legal documents show.

Deposition transcripts were provided to the AP by a person close to the lawsuit who requested anonymity because of the case’s sensitive nature.

O’Neal’s death has loomed large over a Missouri football program that under coach Gary Pinkel vaulted into the national championship chase in recent seasons. The school kept his empty locker intact. Players and coaches chanted his name before and after games and cited his memory as inspiration.

But the July 12, 2005, death also raised questions about player safety and a school’s responsibility to monitor its athletes’ pre-existing medical conditions.

Missouri agreed in March to pay O’Neal’s parents, settling a 31⁄2-year-old suit before trial. The settlement includes language that attributes no fault to Pinkel, athletic director Mike Alden, sports medicine director Rex Sharp, strength and conditioning director Pat Ivey and 10 other current or past university employees.

Sharp, Ivey and Alden did not reply to AP interview requests.

O’Neal, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound redshirt freshman, began to struggle about 45 minutes into the hourlong workout.

By the final drill, O’Neal complained of blurry vision. At one point, he sunk to his hands and knees. When a 300-pound offensive lineman completed the drill first, O’Neal was ordered to repeat it three more times.

“I’m trying,” he said, when told to jog and not walk back into line. “I’m not weak. I just can’t go on.”

O’Neal eventually slumped to the ground and was helped off the field by a teammate to a nearby locker room.

In a deposition last August, Ivey testified that he expected Sharp to examine O’Neal at that point. But Sharp declined — and rebuked wide receiver Brad Ekwereku for “babying” O’Neal by squirting water on the player’s head.

Sharp later testified in his own deposition that he did not assist O’Neal “because he thought he was a recovering athlete and I’ve seen that in my years of experience many times.”

Once in the locker room, O’Neal’s condition worsened. Two strength coaches left the area before strength coach Josh Stoner decided to flag down a campus landscaping truck, which then carried an unconscious O’Neal to the team offices rather than a hospital one-quarter mile away.

The athletic department’s Emergency Action Plan advises employees to call 911 “as soon as the situation is deemed an emergency ... or is life-threatening.”

University employees also offered conflicting accounts about the frantic moments after O’Neal was taken from the stadium but before he made it to the hospital.

Sharp said once in his office he saw O’Neal in the truck. He testified that he hesitated to call 911 because Stoner came inside and said “I need help,” but didn’t mention O’Neal by name. Stoner testified he immediately identified O’Neal as the player needing help.

And once Sharp went outside to the truck, he left his cell phone behind, further delaying the call for help. Another trainer inside the building then called 911. O’Neal died soon after he arrived at University Hospital, about 90 minutes after the workout ended.

O’Neal’s official cause of death, according to the former Boone County medical examiner, was viral meningitis. But that was later discredited, and several outside experts cited sickle cell trait.

Missouri’s sports medicine handbook stipulates that Sharp and his assistants be familiar with the medical literature concerning sickle cell trait. In his deposition, Sharp said he was not aware of the requirement.

Sharp, the school’s head athletic trainer since 2006, was named assistant athletic director for sports medicine in 2008. Ivey, a former Missouri defensive end who played for three NFL teams, was appointed assistant athletic director for athletic performance in 2007.


Eurekahwk 10 years, 9 months ago

This man should never be allowed to work in the medical profession again. There aren't words to describe how rediculous this is. And he is one of Mizzous top Sports Med guys? They truly are a joke. I don't care what his experience tells him, everyone is not the same person. And every case is different.

FlaHawk 10 years, 9 months ago

They promoted the guilty to Admin/Leeadership jobs.

Well done Mizzou!

Carter Patterson 10 years, 9 months ago

I agree Chicago. Displaying the photo is in poor taste.

KANSTUCKY 10 years, 9 months ago

They should have gone to court. They would have exposed them for the criminals they are. They could probably get half that from LJWorld for running this photo. Pathetic on both counts.

biggbear 10 years, 9 months ago

I also agree the photo should not be shown. Very poor taste.

Ryan2845 10 years, 9 months ago

Agreed, the photo is bad form and should be removed.

rockemchalkemrobots 10 years, 9 months ago

Pull this photo immediately. Show some class.

Appoggiatura 10 years, 9 months ago

I agree with the others. This picture took place four years ago and it was controversial then when it thrown up on TV and in print. There is NO reason whatsoever that this picture should be on this site. Imagine of the kid's family or friends came to this site (I know, doubtful, but still) and had to see this. This is classless and in very poor taste.

Thomas Michaud 10 years, 9 months ago

Absolutely agree with the others ... show a photo of the player from a PR shot, not like this - please make a more wise decision and replace the photo.

Very horrible tragedy that should have been avoided ... words can't explain the anger at the inept reaction towards O'Neal. I can't imagine the pain his family still feels from their loss.

Chicago_JHawk 10 years, 9 months ago

I see the photo has been removed. Shouldn't have been there in the first place.

Tribehawk 10 years, 9 months ago

Hopefully every college athletic program in the country learns a lesson from this tragedy. I can understand the family wanting to settle quickly so as to put this all behind them as soon as possible, but I tend to agree that if this went to court, the family would stand to gain a lot more money. Obviously, the family decided that it wouldn't be worth it--and I can't blame them--but if they had taken this to court, it would spur other college programs to put in more safety regulations to avoid such tragedies. Perhaps that can be achieved through a criminal investigation.

5DecadeHawk 10 years, 9 months ago

There are times where my hatred for Mizery must take a back seat to more important things.

$2 Million is a pitiful replacement for a dead son.

My prayers for the O'Neal family.

Big12SportsFan 10 years, 9 months ago

The University of Missouri Football Team and Coaching Staff lost a brother, son, teammate, and friend.

To post comments based on our rivalry is reprehensible and in poor taste, not to mention totally classless. This was a terrible tragedy that could have happened at KU or for that fact anywhere. Reserve your rivalry comments to the message boards and leave this alone. MU has honored this young man and his family and is deeply saddened by this loss. Show some class folks.

TwistedFish31 10 years, 9 months ago

Where are the "rivalry comments" Big12SportsFan? Every post on here has been written with class and is supportive of the kid and his family and asking the site to pull the photo. Your remark makes no sense at all. Guess you just felt like preaching for no reason today. Kind of sad.

rasta_meta 10 years, 9 months ago

I would like to point out that KU has had athletes with severe problems under Mangino's regime and they have always done what is best for the kids. Meier was forced to take redshirt year when he would have most likely been the starter at QB because of a medical condition and they didn't want to risk it. Also, Harrison Hill had a serious medical condition that was caught by the staff and was forced to end his career early. It just shows that some staffs do the right thing and take this stuff seriously.

Big12SportsFan 10 years, 9 months ago


I was referring to the first two quotes on this page as well as the one right above....see below. Leave it alone and stop the classless dribble.

Eurekahwk (anonymous) says... This man should never be allowed to work in the medical profession again. There aren't words to describe how rediculous this is. And he is one of Mizzous top Sports Med guys? They truly are a joke. I don't care what his experience tells him, everyone is not the same person. And every case is different.

FlaHawk (anonymous) says... They promoted the guilty to Admin/Leeadership jobs.

Well done Mizzou!

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