Whitworth will pay for funeral of boy who died from football injuries

Though the NFL has not seen a player die from on-field injuries in decades (Korey Stringer died in 2001 from heat exhaustion), tragedy often strikes at the lower levels of this sport.

It happened recently in Farmerville, Louisiana, to 17-year-old Jaleel Gipson (pictured).  A fullback, Gipson died after fracturing a vertebrate during “Oklahoma drills” at Farmerville High School’s spring practices.  He was on life support for several days.

According to KNOE-TV, Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth has donated to the family the cost of Gipson’s funeral.  It’s a great gesture, and news of Whitworth’s generosity brought the story to our attention.

Now that we’re here, and speaking primarily as the father of a soon-to-be-17-year-old football player, why in the hell are high school kids doing Oklahoma drills in May, or ever?

The NFL stubbornly believes its rules will trickle down to the lower levels of the sport.  If so, the removal of contact from offseason workouts is trickling from Park Avenue to the Bayou at the rate of partially-frozen molasses.

Jaleel’s coach calls the incident an “unlucky event,” which Jaleel’s family surely  would consider to be the biggest understatement of human history.  The health of our children shouldn’t be left to chance, not when the risk is avoidable.  While we realize that many frustrated, over-the-hill athletes regard high-school sports as having the same significance as the pro game, youth sports are played with children, not adults.

While the excessive zeal of some can undermine the good intentions of the many, it seems like every community has more than a few coaches whose obsession with winning clouds their judgment.  Or, in many cases, supplants it.

Try to remember that your players are our children.  They’re not your tickets to the glory days that have long since passed you by.  They’re our children.

Jaleel Gipson should be alive, and now his family has to deal for the rest of their lives with the fact that he isn’t.  While it’s very good and kind that Andrew Whitworth will pay for Jaleel’s funeral, this situation needs to spark a broader discussion in every school district about putting the same limits on offseason practices that the NFL has instituted.

That won’t bring Jaleel back, but it could protect other kids from suffering a similar fate.

60 responses to “Whitworth will pay for funeral of boy who died from football injuries

  1. Proud to be a Bengal fan. Whitworth has always been a stand up guy. The way he protected Andy last season and now this. Kudos to you, sir

  2. Oklahoma Drills are a part of football and players love them. It’s Spring Practice here in Louisiana. The kids get 10 days to be in pads so it’s a critical time for coaches to see what they are working with. It’s sad it happened, but it comes with the territory of being a football player.

  3. Dumb, dangerous, and stupid drill. I’ve seen so many injuries as a result of it and I remember dreading it at practice. Not because I was afraid to get hit, because it was unrealistic and extreme. On the field, players almost never run full speed head on at each other. I don’t care how tough you are, there is a limit of how many foot-pounds of pressure a bone will take before it snaps.

  4. Oklahoma Drills were one of my favorite parts of playing football. It’s the only time in football where it’s an individual game, and you get all the glory or all the blame. Great way to build confidence and improve as a player.

  5. I’m trying to find the logic here. Are you trying to say that if this drill happened in August, he wouldn’t have been hurt?

    Getting back to the terrible business at hand–Props to Whitworth for helping the grieving family. He’s a class person, which really stands out given the history of players on his team.

  6. “Oklahoma Drills are a part of football and players love them.”

    head injuries are also part of football … do players love them?

    and — who cares of “players love them”? players probably love drinking beer on the beach, but that doesn’t make it a good idea.

    left up to their own devices, players regularly make bad choices … that’s why coaches are (generally) adults.

  7. This is a tragedy, quite sad, but not a call to eliminate Oklahoma drills. This is a staple of football and one of best ways to teach the fundamentals of the run game, the run between the tackles meat and potatoes that is the game of football still at the youth level and most high schools (the passing game doesn’t really dominate until college).

    I have seen some value in eliminating an awful lot more contact than I’d previously thought was practical (on my youngest son’s team), but you can’t teach football with all contact eliminated from practice, it isn’t practical, it won’t work and to do so would invite MORE injury as kids wouldn’t learn how to properly protect themselves. This includes keeping their head up when hitting, to hit with the shoulder, to tackle and wrap up, etc.

  8. Seahawks, I don’t know what kind of football you played, but Oklahoma Drill is every bit of realistic when it comes to the game. OL and DL always face 1 on 1 blocks and RB always face LB or DBs in the open field.

  9. Dying from a drill that only minimally mimics game action does not “come with the territory of being a football player.” There are a hundred other ways to test grit and toughness.

  10. We did “Oklahoma Drills” in high school. There’s quite a number of skills sets touched upon during those drills given the limited time and physical space you have to work with. I enjoyed them. But, if they needed to disappear for safety’s sake, I’d have no problem with seeing them eliminated. Plenty of other drills would suffice.

  11. Saying someone in the NFL hasn’t died in “decades” makes it sound like it’s been 20 or 30 years. I think “in a little over a decade” would be a more apt description of less than twelve years. Typical use of semantics by sleazebag lawyers trying to manipulate the discourse.

  12. If you take the oklahoma drill out of a football practice. you have to remove the running game from the sport.

  13. my son’s 13 and they do Oklahoma drills at the end of every practice and he loves them. This was a tragic injury, rip young man.

  14. The Oaklahoma drill is football. Take it out of football and we’re a step from full time flag football. In any contact sport….or most any sport, remember there have been more fatalities in baseball than any other sport…..there is risk. As a parent if you are scared of it then don’t let your child play….or ride a bike or drive a car……there is risk everywhere. Blaming the game or the drill is misguided. As a parent, I will be the first to admit that I am steering my child away from football. If he wants to play, I’ll let him…..but I’m pushing baseball.

    That being said…..the coaches are there to mitigate risk. I would ask why kids are running full-contact in may. We ran the oaklahoma drill in HS but we only ran it a few times near the end of fall camp…..it wasn’t an everyday thing. Also……my coaches were there to use good judgment (and save me from myself at times). I played CB and if my turn in the line came against a guy who was way out of my weight class….they pulled me out.

    I don’t know exactly what happened here and my heart bleeds for this family…..but my guess is that this probably has more to do with a lapse in judgment (or supervision) on the part of the coaching staff than running a drill that has been a mainstay in programs at every level for decades.

  15. I also loved the Oklahoma drill but as a parent I’m not sure it is worth losing ones life over. These stories are tough, I can’t imagine losing my son playing football at the same time I know what football did for me ( confidence, responsibility, toughness). No easy answers .

  16. I remember these drills. It was a good way to measure who has the toughness & wherewithall separating the real players from the coasters. They were a good measure of who would emerge as the leaders of the team. I enjoyed them & so did most everyone else. I don’t remember them being unduly violent unless the coach put in a heavy duty mis-match, which may be the point at issue in this case & should be investigated.

    Bottom line someone got killed which could have happened at anytime really on any play. I mean its a contact sport & physical. You have to accept the risks associated with the game if you choose to play. We can’t stop being who we are just to mitigate all the dangers out there in the world in order to be completely safe. It’s part of life & in this case sadly death.

    My prayers go out to the family.

  17. best wishes to the family….whit is a standup guy and proud to have him on the bengals! always nice to hear about an athlete that does good!

  18. Years ago we did oklahoma drills with running start and from lying on back waiting for the whistle. Hated them but that’s not why I felt compelled to reply. This op/ed piece makes an assumption that these drills are done at the whim of coaches living in the past. It also takes takes on a tone that says children should play flag football and dodge ball should be illegal in schools. It’s a wonder my generation even survived as kids.

  19. Of course the South is implementing these ideas slowly.

    Southern states don’t much care for newfangled things like “ideas”.

  20. I apologize for my rudeness, but milehigh, that is one of the most ignorent thing I have ever heard. Pads should not be allowed during the spring or summer. This is already a rule in PA. This is high school football we are talking about, not college.

  21. RIP young man.

    As for the article you may want to understand football before you comment. First off these young men are not professionals that have already learned to be physical. This drill is intended to teach players how to be physical. Secondly, most coaches have adapted the drill so that it is not 1 on 1 running full speed from 10 yards away. Most now line up behind 3 kids in linemen stances only 2 yards back. Lastly this is the South and football is a year round activity of lifting and conditioning plus a state regulated spring practice. Why do you think the SEC is King and its been forever and then some since a team North of the Mason Dixon Line has won anything!

  22. I have to say, I’m also one of the guys who loved Oklahoma drills. It was a fun mano-a-mano part of practice.

    I was surprised to find out a few years ago that a lot of the “fun” drills are gone because the risk of injury is considered too high. The full contact drills are teambuilding drills IMO.

    I’ll add that I was not one of the bigger or stronger guys on our team. I wasn’t even a starter. But I always felt proud of going against the big guys and giving everything I had.

  23. Would be nice to see more stories about this gesture than stories about nobody wanting Tebow or the Buttfumble

  24. R.I.P. young man. 17 is far too young. Words cannot express tragedies of this magnitude. Thoughts and prayers with Mr. Gipson’s family and friends.

  25. I participated in Oklahoma drills in high school. I did it unwillingly, with a ton of peer pressure.

    Oklahoma drills at age 4-22 is stupid. It is a gladiator drill for those who have everything to lose an nothing to gain.

    It is stupid. I hope the coach is fired and the district sued.

    I am coming close to not liking football. Never dreamed I say that.

    Football is crack. It is a slow death. It is fun, but leaves a permanent scar. It is for those who do not with a long life. And I love it.

    I am messed up.

  26. “Try to remember that your players are our children. They’re not your tickets to the glory days that have long since passed you by. They’re our children.”

    Well said, Mike.

    RIP, Jaleel. Classy move on Whitworth’s part.

  27. @ milehigh53. It’s sad to hear that you think death comes with the game. That may be true but I for one don’t believe it. As a former D1 ball player I realize that these drills can be exciting and fun to take part in, but it’s the coaches responsibility/duty to look out for the safety of our kids. The physical rigors of the season is bad enough and in some cases it almost takes a whole off season for the body to heal. Their is no reason our kids should be engaging in physical contact during the off season. This could and should have been avoided. My heart goes out to the family.

  28. Glad you included the link to that coach’s interview because he was very broken up about the loss of his player–which isn’t reflected in your choice to pull out only the comment about it being an “unlucky event” or in your speculation that he’s coaching to recapture some lost glory of his youth. This was a tragedy for the family, teammates, and coaches of this young man. Whether or not it’s advisable for high school coaches to run Oklahoma drills in May is a valid point for discussion. But it’s not fair to take out your anxiety as the parent of a high school football player on a grieving coach.

  29. Horrible tragedy. Strange to hear some much support to banish this drill on the same site complaining about the wussification of the nfl.

    I’ve experienced that drill first hand, 6′ 230# LB running right through me, followed by a 6’2″ 350# DT. Brutal. That’s why I never encouraged my son to play. An if you haven’t done it yourself, think twice before you sign up your kid.

    But that said, I don’t see how it gets removed, it would be like trying to learn boxing without being punched in the face.

  30. Some coaches may see this as a necessary tool for coaching…but i dont think this should be done this late in the off season

  31. Does it matter whether these drills were done in May or August? Probably not. I’m sure this coach would love to have the last couple weeks back if he could. I think the author is looking in the past with 20/20 vision.

  32. First of all RIP young fellow and may God comfort his family during this tough time
    2ndly Oklahoma drills this time of the year for HS kids is stupid
    Lastly For those of you that think lowly of the bengals players, this ones for you.

  33. Sorry a young man lost his life.

    Unsaid is how it affects the boy or boys who went against him in the drill, spending the rest of their lives knowing how it went wrong.

    How it affects the school and the community..

  34. You softies have got to be kidding. If this player doesn’t die, none of you say anything about the Oklahoma Drill. A drill that’s older than you and I. Injuries and in more extreme cases (death) do come with the game. This latest incident provides the proof. IT’S SPRING PRACTICE! What the hell do you mean kids shouldn’t wear pads? My heart goes out for the kid and everyone involved, but to avoid this one incident is to take away from the many joys football bring. Putting on the pads. Hitting. Learning technique. That all comes with the drill.

    And to say that the Oklahoma Drill minimally mirrors the game of football proves you don’t know football. Kids face 1 on 1 blocks all the time. There are MANY different ways for that blocker to block the defender and MANY ways for that defender to get past the blocker. That can all be taught in this particular drill. A RB has to read his blockers ass and find a way to get past a defender and the defender has to find a way to read the hole and get the RB down. This drill mimics the game of football on many levels.

    Taking away this drill is one more step towards flag football.

  35. As a football fan I hate the idea of the game becoming less phsical. As a parent with an athletic son entering highschool next year, I don’t think I like the element of risk the Oklahoma Drills bring to my kid.

    I’m curious. How many of those who say they did the drills themselves where RBs or among those who suffer the hardest impacts?

    It is highschool…not college or pro ball.

    My son wants to play OLB, but he’s a hard hitter.

    Seems to me the Oklahoma Drills could be adjusted to accomplish the same things more safely.

  36. Interesting. In one fell swoop the NFL is glorified, a shot is taken at backwoods Bayou people, and an attempt to make an already distraught coach feel responsible for a boy’s death.

  37. Practice in May when kids should be focused on wrapping up the school year and finals. No wonder schools south of the Mason-Dixon Line are garbage.

  38. School doesn’t let out til late May in Louisiana. Spring practice was over last week. Unless it takes 2 weeks of studying for 6 hours a day for high school finals, academics are not negatively impacted by spring football at all.

  39. Oklahoma Drills were not the reason that the viking medical staff could not preserve Korey Stringer’s life.

    As a lawyer, Mike, you proclaim the power of the almighty courts to solve all problems, including this one.

    Some judge will just legislate from the bench, just as the Constitution prohibits.

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