By Ken Reed

New University of Oregon football coach Willie Taggart brought his own strength and conditioning coach with him to Eugene. His name is Irene Oderinde. He’s not certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association or the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association. His degrees are in recreation administration and sports management, not sports medicine, kinesiology, athletic training, physical therapy or anything else closely related to his current position.

On Tuesday, the University of Oregon athletic department suspended Oderinde for a month without pay for running brutal conditioning drills that resulted in three Oregon football players being hospitalized. The three are all suspected to be suffering from rhabdomyolysis, a syndrome in which soft muscle tissue is broken down with “leakage into the blood stream of muscle contents,” according to the NCAA medical handbook. It’s a serious condition that can damage the kidneys and worse.

The mother of one hospitalized player, Sam Poutasi, told the Oregonian newspaper that her son had complained of unusual muscle soreness and had been diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, or “rhabdo” as it’s commonly called. The hospitalized players had highly elevated levels of creatine kinase, an indicator of rhabdo.

According to an Oregonian report, a team source who witnessed the workouts, said:

“… players were initially given a short warmup including push-ups, squats and sit-ups and a ‘plank.’ Those with knowledge of the workout had described it as akin to military basic training because the repetitions were required to be performed on an up-down cadence by a supervising coach. When players could not finish the warm-up perfectly, they started over. For some workout groups, the warmup repeated for up to an hour, becoming the entire workout.”

The Oregon players were put through the grueling drills the first week back from the holiday break. This type of strenuous workout after a long break goes against strength and conditioning guidelines established in 2012 by a coalition of medical and training groups, including the American College of Sports Medicine, the American College of Emergency Physicians, the National Athletic Trainers Association, and the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association.

The Oregon case certainly isn’t the first of its kind. For example, in 2011, 13 University of Iowa football players were hospitalized due to exertional rhabdomyolysis, following workouts led by a loose cannon strength and conditioning coach.

In 2014, Cal-Berkeley football coaches and trainers were accused of employing abusive, punitive and medically reckless practice drills. One player, Ted Agu, was transported to an area hospital where he was pronounced dead. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the university admitted liability and paid $4.75 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit. Agu was experiencing “exhaustion, dizziness, shortness of breath, (and) loss of balance.” Yet, trainers didn’t come to his aid.

Besides the win-at-all-costs (WAAC) nature of big-time college athletics, the overarching problem here is that college athletes don’t have any union representation, as do their professional counterparts. Nobody is watching out for the athletes’ best interests. Nobody is protecting them from the despots that are running and condoning these types of drills. Do you think the NFL players union would put up with these types of situations?

Neither do I.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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