Fatal Football

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One hot summer day last August, a Kentucky high school football coach named David Jason Stinson decided that his players needed to be pushed at practice to perform to his standards. The team ran what are called "gassers" - sprints up and down the field - to build stamina. One onlooker reportedly said the jeering of players by Stinson and his staff was "appalling." Stinson himself allegedly vowed that the sprints would continue until one player quit the team for good.

A player collapsed and was taken to a shady area to recover. Apparently that didn't make Coach Stinson call off the sprints. A second player - David Englert - actually did quit the team, which might have been satisfying in some sadistic way to Stinson. But it was too late. Fifteen-year-old sophomore Max Gilpin fell to the ground. He died three days later of heat stroke, septic shock and organ failure.

Coach Stinson has now been indicted by a grand jury. He is charged with reckless homicide, meaning he should have known that his behavior could lead to Gilpin's death.

Stinson knows plenty about football. He played college ball and in the NFL for a short time. Indeed, he would have known that heat-related deaths do occur among high school players, college players and the pros. And he was the one who was supposed to protect his team.

Something went horribly wrong. In Stinson, the equilibrium that a coach needs to demonstrate between motivating players and nurturing them went fatally out of balance. For reasons I can only speculate upon, he needed to prove he was tougher than the high school kids on the field. Maybe the memory of his season with the New York Giants seemed to be fading. Maybe he needed to remind everyone what it takes to really make it to the pros. Maybe he worried he never really had made it big himself.

Whatever weakness resided inside David Jason Stinson seems to have translated into an inhuman and deadly set of circumstances that August day. It's always that way when one person knowingly puts another in mortal danger. It's about what's broken inside the man or woman orchestrating the emotional or physical violence. It's about old injuries to that person's self-esteem creating new and potent risks for others. It's about the recycling of psychological pain into something virulent that can kill.

Don't be confused by the fact that the teenagers put in harm's way were football players. Don't lose sight of the fact that, athlete or not, Max Gilpin wasn't even old enough to drive. He needed Stinson to look out for him, not goad him to risk his life to prove he was a man.

Stinson reportedly brought a photograph of Gilpin to every practice following the player's death. He has also reportedly commented that he lost a boy that fateful day, too.

The trouble is, carrying a photograph of your victim around isn't appropriate. It shows a lack of insight and sensitivity. And as someone who has counseled more than my fair share of bereaved parents, I'd guess that Stinson knows almost nothing about the depth and intensity of the Gilpins' loss. Pretending otherwise adds insult to the fatal injury inflicted on Max Gilpin.

Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for FOX News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His newest book, "Living the Truth: Transform Your Life through the Power of Insight and Honesty" has launched a new self-help movement. Check out Dr. Ablow's website at livingthetruth.com or e-mail him at info@keithablow.com.