Death of University of the Cumberlands Wrestler results in Lawsuit Against University & staff

By Doyice Cotten and Inside Higher Ed report that a lawsuit has been filed in the death of a college wrestler, Grant Brace, during a conditioning activity about a year ago. Just when we think coaches have the training to keep athletes safe while getting them into shape, it seems that we slip back into 1900’s where failing to provide water was thought to make the athlete tough.

According to, Coach Jordan Countryman and assistant Jake Sinkovics required numerous circuits sprinting up and down a steep hill called “punishment hill” during a “punishment practice” on the first day of practice. Brace sat down with fatigue and was told if he didn’t continue, he would be kicked off the team. He did and eventually had to stop – at which point the coach would not allow someone to give him water.

The suit names the University of the Cumberlands, university president Larry Cockrum, athletic director Chris Kraftick and the two wrestling coaches. Brace suffered from narcolepsy and ADHD, for which the high school had made accommodations in the classroom and in sports. Attorneys allege that the University promised similar accommodations, but that they were often ignored or caused Brace to be singled out by the coaches.

The lawsuit alleges that Brace begged for water and help; it claims that he said “I feel like I am going to die, I feel like my head is going to explode” and, “Please help me, you promised you would help me.” also states that the lawsuit claims that a year before Brace died, a student-athlete fell during a hill practice and Sinkovics made him keep running, even though he was clearly in mental and physical distress. After seeking medical assistance from a trainer after practice, he was rushed to the hospital, the Herald-Leader reported. He suffered a concussion, memory loss, slurred speech and an epileptic disorder.

The university has expressed sympathy for Grant’s family, but says it has tried its best to ensure that the wrestling program is being operated in a safe manner.

Risk Management

Such deaths seem to be happening less often than in the past, but still too often. This suit should warn school administrators that the university and university administrators are subject to liability as well as the coaches running the program. Today there is really no excuse for something like this. We KNOW the dangers and the need for water by athletes. And just think, this was on the first day of practice. As to risk management, the author has highlighted in red several facts that have risk management implications. Some quick comments in order:

Punishment Hill” – think public relations!

First day of practice – what coach doesn’t know to work up gradually?

Threatened kicking him off  the team – does that need a comment?

Refused to allow he be given water – this must be 1955 when we did not know better. Has he ever attended a coaching clinic?

Narcolepsy and ADHD – so the coaches knew of his disability

Promised similar accommodations – but failed to deliver

Begged for water – at some point, someone has to think

A year before – so this has happened before, but no death – just serious problems

This looks like the dream case of every plaintiff’s attorney in the country. Hopefully, many coaches and college administrators will take this as a reminder these young athletes are kids — not chess pieces or pro athletes.

Photo Credit:  Thanks to Denis Egan via Flickr.