WASHINGTON, D.C.—According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, which tracks football injuries and deaths, since 1995, three football players a year on average have died of heat stroke. Most of them high school athletes. In the last five years, the average has tracked at two student athlete deaths a year from heat stroke.

Joanne Atkins-Ingram of Neptune City, NJ is living the nightmare every day of a bereaved mother. Her beloved son Braeden Bradforth, died of exertional heat stroke in 2018, after football practice at Garden City Community College (GCCC), Kansas . Braeden had just moved to GCCC from Neptune City, where he had played high school football. The tragic death happened after the first day of conditioning practice, where players were required to run 50-yard sprints 36 times.

Following months of Atkins-Ingram being unable to get any answers from GCCC about the sudden death of her son, she asked Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), for his assistance. In 2019, Smith, tenaciously pressed GCCC President Ryan Ruda to conduct an independent investigation into Braeden’s death in a March 2019 letter. The college ultimately agreed, and an independent investigation was released in November 2019.

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The report by a four-person investigative team exposed a lack of responsible leadership, as well multiple failures by the college to prevent Braeden’s death from exertional heat stroke.  The investigative report confirmed Braeden's death was preventable.   

According to a press release by Smith's office, "Experts agree that death from exertional heat stroke can be prevented when diagnosed and treated in a timely manner.  As identified in the independent investigation, the college where Braeden played and subsequently died did not have adequate steps in place to identify and treat the common heat-related illness."

This prompted Rep. Chris Smith to draft legislation to protect student athletes across America. Recently, that legislation has taken a major step toward becoming law, after the influential Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA)—who has prime jurisdiction over the issue—voiced his willingness to support and help steer the bill through the full House.

With the chairman’s support the bill clears a major hurdle and his support helps pave the way for passage by the full House,” Smith said.

“The bill creates a 12-member Commission of health and sports professionals empowered to study and identify best practices and minimum standards for the prevention, recognition, and treatment of exertional heat stroke. I thank Chairman Scott for his commitment, and I will work with him to advance the bill.”

Smith arranged for key congressional leaders to meet with Joanne Atkins-Ingram last week. With Smith at her side along with her friend and attorney, Jill Greene, Ms. Atkins-Ingram made her way on Capitol Hill building support for Smith’s legislation, Braeden’s Commission: Protect our Athletes from Exertional Heat Stroke. They also met with other members of the New Jersey delegation who agreed to cosponsor the bill.

This is a tragic incident where a young man from Monmouth County, NJ lost his life, but Braeden could have been from any county in any State,” Smith said. “Joanne is turning her pain into a chance for other students experiencing exertional heat stroke to have a better outcome than Braeden’s tragic story.”

After meeting with Smith and Ms. Atkins-Ingram last week, Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ-06) agreed to cosponsor the bill, and on Monday Rep. Don Norcross (D-NJ-01) also became a cosponsor.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ-05) is an original co-sponsor of Smith’s bipartisan bill, and Education and Labor Committee’s Ranking Member, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), has indicated her willingness to work with Smith and Scott on moving the bill.

The legislation was introduced by Smith in the House on Aug. 2, the day after announcing it at a memorial in Braeden’s hometown of Neptune, N.J., exactly one year after Braeden’s death. Among it’s its provisions, H.R. 4145 would:

  • establish a commission to conduct a study on exertional heat stroke among student athletes at educational institutions across the country to study best practices for prevention, recognition and treatment of exertional heat stroke;
  • develop recommendations for the purpose of reducing fatalities from exertional heat stroke among student athletes, and;
  • require members of the commission to submit a report to the President and Congress with its with findings and recommendations within two years.

Bradforth was 19 when he arrived at GCCC in late July of 2018 to play football. On Aug. 1, 2018, only his second day on campus, he collapsed after evening football practice and was found unresponsive. After being taken to the hospital in an ambulance sometime later, he passed away due to exertional heat stroke, his autopsy later revealed.