Epilogue: A Player Dies

Aug 23, 2005

In the August issue of News Photographer magazine, photojournalist Jenna Isaacson of the Columbia Daily Tribunewrote about her experience photographing University of Missouri redshirt freshman football player Aaron O’Neal, 19, when he collapsed during a summer strength and conditioning workout in July and then hours later died at the University of Missouri in Columbia. The workout, while strenuous, was not held in extreme heat, according to the report, and the player appeared to be in good physical condition, although observers saw that he struggled more and more as the one-hour workout progressed.

Today in Columbia the Boone County medical examiner, Valerie Rao, told members of the football team that O'Neal died as the result of viral meningitis, the Tribune reported, and O'Neal's father, Lonnie O'Neal, today filed a $300,000 wrongful death lawsuit. The suit names members of MU's athletic training staff, the strength and conditioning staff, athletic director Mike Alden, head football coach Gary Pinkel, and director of football operations Mark Alnutt, but not the university. By Missouri law, the university as a state institution has "sovereign immunity." The Tribune reports that the suit alleges that O'Neal died as a result of "neglect" by university staff, and that "university officials were callous and fell far short of any reasonable standard."

Viral meningitis is an infection of the spinal fluid around the spinal cord and the fluid that surrounds the brain. The Tribune reports that Rao said in a press conference today that O'Neal's brain had swollen as a result of the infection, and the swelling caused the young player to stop breathing. She also told reporters that it is unclear whether participating in the voluntary summer workout contributed to O'Neal's death or not. The Tribune quotes her as saying, "I don't think it helped him."