After a two week trial and five hours of deliberation, a jury awarded the family of Ereck Plancher $10 million after finding UCF guilty of negligence in Plancher's death. That's $10 million for the mother and father of a son that will never come home; $10 million because a school, which the family entrusted with their child, was negligent, resulting in Plancher's death. And though it sounds like a lot of money, $10 million is nothing when considering a young man lost his life on a football field during a spring practice.
Ereck Plancher was a 19-year-old kid when he collapsed during a pre-spring workout. He was a year out of high school with his life ahead of him -- a life that was snatched away in the blink of an eye. And the worst part of it all is that his death should have been prevented.
The two weeks of battles in court boiled down to two simple arguments. On one side, Plancher's family argued O'Leary's workout combined with the fact that a trainer didn't know the young man had sickle cell anemia resulted in his death. On the other, lawyers for UCF argued sickle cell had nothing to do with Plancher's death, and that it was an underlying heart condition that caused his cardiac arrest.
The two sides argued throughout the trial, calling experts and challenging statements, but it was all just semantics. O'Leary and UCF were fighting to protect themselves while Plancher's family was seeking justice. The bigger picture was the loss of a life on a practice field under the supervision of the UCF coaching staff. To me, that's enough to levy a judgment and hammer the institution.
Sickle cell or not, it's hard to look at Plancher's death and not conclude O'Leary's workouts were questionable. Common sense tells us something triggered Plancher's cardiac arrest, be it sickle cell or extreme stress brought on during a grueling practice. Whatever the trigger, Plancher's death should have never happened.
The negligence of the UCF coaching staff, and specifically George O'Leary, is astounding, yet all too common in college football. Spring drills are ruthless, no matter the level of football. It's a period to harden the team, form bonds and build a foundation of conditioning that will hopefully propel a team to success in the coming season.
Since Plancher's death, little has changed in the college football world. Players still run the gauntlet during the spring practice period and in weight rooms throughout the offseason. Just this year, players at Iowa did squats until they dropped, resulting in 13 hospitalizations. Immediately following the incident, Iowa worked to protect itself and the coaching staff, just as we've seen Central Florida do in the Placher case. Nothing has changed, even though it should have.
Central Florida is appealing the decision and $10 million in damages, but why? Plancher's family finally had some kind of closure -- though there will never truly be closure in a case such as this -- and UCF decided to drag it out. The trial was already a stressful experience, forcing the family to re-live Plancher's dying moments over two weeks of testimony. His mother and father were forced to listen as teammates recounted the moments after he collapsed on the field and before he passed.
How much is a life worth? When is it time to just eat the cost, let the university's insurance pay the punitive damages and allow the Plancher family to move-on? Appealing the decision shows an appalling lack of common sense and sensitivity.
Plancher's not just a name or a dollar figure. He's a person -- a person who lost his life far too early while playing a game. UCF, and college football as a whole, should see this as a wakeup call -- for the dollar amount, the loss of life and the eye-opening arguments in court.
George O'Leary was entrusted with the safety of Ereck Plancher. He and his staff failed, and should pay for the mistakes made. But instead of sitting idly by and watching the proceedings, shocked at the eight-figure settlement, the rest of the college football world should learn.
Take care of these young man laying their bodies on the line day-in and day-out. Risking a young man's life in the name of toughness is not worth it. This can, and should, be a watershed moment for college football, a time to learn from the mistakes that occurred on that spring day at Central Florida. Stop denying the stress these workouts place on the bodies of college football players before another player is taken at far too young an age.