If you haven’t read this Sports Illustrated piece yet, you must. It’s an astonishing piece of writing and a heartbreaking story about Max Gilpin, a 15-year-old boy in Louisville who died of heatstroke during a football practice.
Writer Thomas Lake tells the story of the incident and the legal battle that followed, but more importantly, describes the insane and obscene culture that can infect big time high school sports. It’s a culture obsessed with winning, built on arcane ideas about toughness and discipline, and a willing ignorance of the difference between what’s physically challenging and what’s dangerous. It’s this culture that allowed a coach to make a boy run until he collapsed and died and afterwards express no remorse or any acknowledgement of wrong-doing. One hundred and forty people watched it happen and didn’t intervene, until it was too late. And unfortunately it’s not a unique occurrence. Since 1931, 665 boys have died playing high school football.
It has been more than 20 years since Buzz Bissinger wrote “Friday Night Lights,” which I read as a total condemnation of that culture. The movie based on the book seemed to bask in that culture, and so does the television series to some extent. It’s a shame, because Bissinger’s message was important but it has been forgotten.
Also want to point to some good commentary on Lake’s article and the case by Eric Crawford of the Lousiville Courier-Journal. He and his colleagues did some fantastic reporting on the story when it first occurred.