PRP’s former football coach has now been indicted by a Grand Jury because of the accidental death during practice last summer of young Max Gilpin.
It is a really sad situation. Obviously. And how to react is vexing. Gilpin’s parents in their grief have dealt with the loss as any caring parents would.
But what about the rest of us?
I give pause to consider this yet again after Andy Wolfson’s surprisingly sympathetic profile of the accused coach. (Wolfson is a professional journalist of the highest order with a propensity not to pull any punches.) Stinson played for Howard Schnellenberger, a Bear Bryant disciple, who is known for depriving water to his players during summer drills.
Gilpin died on an egregiously hot summer day. My first question is why PRP was practicing in the afternoon? My only experience is the one year I played jayvee football. During August, we practiced very early in the morning, 7:00 a.m. if memory serves. It sure made sense. Still does.
That said, afternoon is when practice was held. Gilpin willingly participated. Okay, he’s a minor. A minor who wanted to be on the team with all the stature that comes with that. But what about his parents? Didn’t they give their tacit approval by allowing their son to participate, knowing the weather conditions? Had they been to previous practices to observe Stinson’s and his staff’s manner of coaching in the heat?
Which of course is no excuse for reckless or negligent behavior by the coaches. “Suck it up and go.” That’s the phrase I most remember from the experience. That’s typical of the manly man attitude that has always pervaded the sport of football. And I played during the era when we were given salt tablets, under the mistaken belief that retaining water in our bodies was the safest way to deal with the heat.
Denying water to build esprit de corps and toughness has always been a way for many coaching regimes. On the other hand, I seem to recall stories about Woody Hayes, the curmudgeonly icon who coached Ohio State until involuntarily being retired after punching a Clemson player himself during a bowl game. Hayes had some players who went on to be doctors. Apparently one or more of them convinced Hayes that providing plenty of water to players during heat was the way to go. And so Hayes did then on, as best I recall. His teams were still plenty damn tough.
I don’t know what Stinson’s philosophy is or what he put in play during those summer practices. It is reported that a witness or witness heard a coach — not identified as Stinson — say during that fatal practice that the players were going to run until somebody quit the team.
Is that criminal conduct? If so, on whose part? Stinson as head coach, even if it wasn’t him who said it, because the buck stops with him. The assistant who allegedly said it, but isn’t indicted?
My feeling at this point is that nothing criminal occurred. Is it sad? Indeed. Reckless? Given the football culture, of which all parties were aware, probably not? Stupid? Quite possibly. Worthy of consideration to impose safer guidelines? Absolutely.
At this point, absent evidence I’ve not yet heard, my opinion is that Jason Stinson is a scapegoat.
– Seedy K