Ereck Plancher may be gone but his story is still alive. Thank goodness, because we are not soon going to forget it.
Plancher died three years ago this month due to complications from sickle cell trait while involved in offseason drills at Central Florida. A former teammate says coach George O'Leary banned water and banished trainers prior to Plancher's collapse. Based on that information, a Florida judge said the family could go ahead with a punitive damages lawsuit against the school. Florida law typically caps compensation in such wrongful death cases. This means the suit can go forward.
At stake are a lot of reputations. Certainly, the NCAA's rep is out there again. It was only last year it began recommending that programs test for sickle cell trait. In this case, and the case of several other athletes since the beginning of this century, they were a little late. Central Florida AD Keith Tribble's future could be impacted. Tribble's name has come up for the Miami AD vacancy. Tribble, a former Orange Bowl executive director, has extensive ties to South Florida.
I would mention coach George O'Leary but he appears to be coated with Teflon. Not only did Plancher die but another one of his players, Brandon Davis, collapsed nine months later. I asked the coach of a Knights' recruit if he had been told by Central Florida recruiters what happened to Davis.
Davis was "dehydrated," the high school coach was told.
"[They] think he was at a late-night party beforehand," the coach added.
That about sums it up, right? Kid was partying. It was his fault. That's not enough for the Florida judicial system in the Plancher case.
"It's not about compensating the Plancher family, it's about stopping football programs from disregarding the safety of student athletes," said Steven Yerrid, the Plancher's attorney. "That's the message. Punitive damage is not designed to compensate the plaintiffs. They're designed to punish the wrongdoers and send a message that that type of conduct will not be allowed. We intend to send that message across the collegiate community. Those that haven't listened, will start listening."
This is one small victory for players' welfare. When they sign scholarship papers, no one tells them that it took 35 years for the NCAA to make sickle cell trait testing mandatory. It doesn't update them on the lawsuits that continue to pour in. Or that the football culture doesn't send players to the hospital, workouts do.
Thank God, Ereck Plancher's story is still alive, even if he isn't.