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Investigation Into Kansas Football Player's Death Blames The Coach, Athletic Director

A new report finds a lack of leadership at Garden City Community College led to the death of 19-year-old Braeden Bradforth, an offensive lineman from New Jersey.
Bradforth Family
A new report finds a lack of leadership at Garden City Community College led to the death of 19-year-old Braeden Bradforth, an offensive lineman from New Jersey.

In a stinging 48-page investigation, the death of a 19-year-old football player last year at Garden City Community College was blamed on "a striking lack of leadership" by top college officials, including former head coach Jeff Sims.

The external investigation, conducted by the national law firm Lewis Brisbois, was unequivocal in blaming GCCC for the exertional heatstroke death of the teen from the New Jersey shore. "The lack of oversight set off a series of events that ended with the death of Braeden Bradforth," the report said.

"I cried some. Some made me angry. At times I was disgusted," Bradforth's mother, Joanne Atkins-Ingram, told KCUR after she read the report. "It was tough to read."

Bradforth died after his first day of practice on Aug. 1, 2018. Coaches had him run 36, 50-yard sprints. Teammates told KCUR they saw him struggle during the workout. Bradforth had just arrived from the Jersey Shore town of Neptune and was not acclimated to the higher altitude and temperature.

But the investigation uncovered that although Bradforth's family doctor had cleared him to play, there was a recommendation about diet and exercise. "This recommendation was not noticed by the Garden City Community College athletic training staff until after Braeden died," the report said. So the coaches had no idea Bradforth could be in danger during the workout.

The investigation also emphasized that there was no plan to help Bradforth once he was in heat distress. "An effective plan likely would have rescued him from what turned out to be his untimely death," the report said.

"The disregard for human life is just shocking," said family lawyer Jill Greene, who practices in New Jersey. "There's no question that those in charge acted recklessly."

The day after Bradforth died, former head coach Jeff Sims, now the head coach at Missouri Southern State University, told reporters that an emergency department doctor speculated the teen died from a blood clot. A year after Bradforth's death, Sims took no responsibility when asked by KCUR. It happened after practice, he said. “It’s unfortunate what happened, but God has a plan."

Sims told investigators, "If Braeden had struggled, he would have been removed from the conditioning test."

But players interviewed by investigators remembered the practice much differently.

One player said Sims "cussed out Braeden stating he was soft" and this "embarrassed Braeden in front of the whole team."

There is a bill in Congress to establish a commission to study heatstroke in young athletes. "This initiative to protect is inspired by Braeden and in a very special way by Joanne’s incredible love and devotion to her son," said Rep. Chris Smith, a Republican who represents Bradforth's hometown.

That measure has been assigned a committee but so far has not advanced past that.

None of the leadership taken to task in the report is still at GCCC. The college president, the athletic director and the head trainer have all left the school since Bradforth’s death.

GCCC, which paid $200,000 for the investigation, refused to answer specific questions about the report and referred to a statement issued when trustees voted to release the report the Bradforth's family.

"GCCC values student health and safety, and the GCCC Sports Medicine Advisory Team and the Athletic Director’s Office will function as a reviewing body for student-athlete health and safety concerns within the GCCC Athletic Department.  These groups will consider any further recommendations for improvements of processes, procedures, or facilities which would directly benefit the safety, health, and security of GCCC student-athletes," the statement said.

The family has not sued GCCC, but it is expected they will.

Sam Zeff is KCUR's metro reporter. You can follow Sam on Twitter @samzeff.

Copyright 2019 KCUR 89.3

Sam grew up in Overland Park and was educated at the University of Kansas. After working in Philadelphia where he covered organized crime, politics and political corruption he moved on to TV news management jobs in Minneapolis and St. Louis. Sam came home in 2013 and covered health care and education at KCPT. He came to work at KCUR in 2014. Sam has a national news and documentary Emmy for an investigation into the federal Bureau of Prisons and how it puts unescorted inmates on Grayhound and Trailways buses to move them to different prisons. Sam has one son and is pretty good in the kitchen.