HOUSTON - The Lanier Law Firm is investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of student-athlete Bennie (Buster) Abram, who died last year during football practice at The University of Mississippi.
Mr. Abram, a walk-on junior defensive back from Southaven, Miss., died after collapsing during the first day of spring practice on Feb. 19, 2010. The autopsy report shows that the 20-year-old's death was due to complications from sickle cell trait with exertion and contributing factor of cardiomegaly, an inflammation of the heart.
Sickle cell trait appears in almost 10 percent of the African-American population, and less commonly in all races. Believed to be the leading killer of Division I football players, the condition has been linked to at least nine deaths of college athletes since 2000.
"Student-athletes shouldn't be dying because of sickle cell," says Gene Egdorf, an attorney with The Lanier Law Firm who represents the Abram family. "The only reason that it turns fatal is because someone along the way made mistakes or intentionally disregarded the well-established guidelines for training, monitoring, and treating these student-athletes."
Mr. Egdorf and The Lanier Law Firm negotiated a landmark 2009 settlement with the national Collegiate Athletic Association following the death of Rice University football player Dale R. Lloyd II, who also had the sickle cell trait. As part of the settlement, the NCAA for the first time recommended that all student-athletes undergo testing for the condition.
Ole Miss officials have said the university began testing athletes for sickle cell trait starting in 1989, and that the school knew about Mr. Abram's condition. However, Mr. Egdorf says the Abram family wasn't made aware of the results or the potential ramifications of the diagnosis.
Mr. Abram was taking part in conditioning drills when he fell unconscious. Athletic trainers treated him on the field before he was taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital in Oxford, Miss. According to doctors, Mr. Abram was conscious when he arrived at the hospital, where he went into cardiac arrest and died six hours later.
NCAA guidelines recommend schools ease athletes into spring practices so they don't overexert themselves. Mr. Egdorf says his investigation has revealed that the team violated those recommendations by conducting an intense workout before Mr. Abram collapsed.