By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Administration officials at Ole Miss learned Friday the school could face a multi-million dollar lawsuit over the death of football player Bennie Abram almost a year ago.
Abram, a 20-year-old Southaven native and walk-on transfer from Itawamba Community College, collapsed during a workout on Feb. 19. He died later that day.
Abram had already been diagnosed with sickle cell trait (SCT), as are roughly 9 percent of African-Americans, research shows.
The autopsy report cited three factors in Abram’s death: his SCT, exertion and an enlarged heart.
The Lanier Law Firm of Houston, Texas emailed a news release Friday saying it was investigating Abram’s death.
Mississippi law requires 90 days before an lawsuit can be filed, and in a five-page letter to Ole Miss chancellor Dan Jones the firm said it was serving “notice” that a lawsuit will follow if an agreeable settlement is not reached within that time frame.
The letter lists the estate of Bennie Abram III as client. Listed as defendants are Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, his entire coaching staff, training staff, athletics director Pete Boone and the university at large.
The firm’s lead attorney in the matter is Eugene Egdorf, who negotiated a settlement with the NCAA in 2009 following the death of Rice University football player Dale Lloyd, who also had SCT. As part of the settlement the NCAA for the first time recommended that all student-athletes be tested for SCT, something that was already in place at Ole Miss.
But Egdorf charges that the Ole Miss football staff, with knowledge of Abram’s condition, did not follow necessary guidelines for prevention nor respond properly when signs of trouble appeared.
In the days following Abram’s death, athletics director Pete Boone credited his training staff for a “professional response.”
Egdorf disagrees, saying it was “well known” that Don Decker, head strength at conditioning coach, had little regard for NCAA guidelines on how to proceed in workouts that included players with SCT.
“It is obvious that the coaches, training staff, medical personnel and athletic department administration of Ole Miss failed miserably, and their actions, both negligent and intentional, directly caused Buster’s (Abram’s) death,” Egdorf wrote.
On Friday, Boone again stood by his staff.
In a prepared statement he said, “The tragic loss of Bennie was immeasurable to not only the Abram family, but also the Ole Miss family. The well-being of our student-athletes has and always will be our highest priority. We reviewed all the actions taken by our medical professionals, athletic trainers and coaches and found that medical protocol and emergency action plans complied with the Best Practices at that time for such cases. We are surprised by this letter from the attorneys and are confident that the facts confirm that we followed the proper procedures.”
Egdorf said the workout was “recklessly intense” for a first day, especially for a student-athlete with SCT.
Egdorf claimed further negligence on the part of Dr. Jeffrey Dennis, saying an improper course of action was followed at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Oxford and said Dennis and Shannon Singletary, the school’s senior associate AD for sports medicine, attempted to intentionally mislead the public by stating that Abram’s death was related to asthma or medication.
Following Abram’s death, news releases from the school described the preseason workout as “routine.”
University attorney Lee Tyner said the school will look into the issues raised in Egdorf’s letter and will “handle it in due course.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.