A year-and-a-half after football player Braeden Bradforth’s death from heat stroke on the first day of practice at Garden City Community College, the pain of his loss remains fresh for his mother, Joanne Atkins-Ingram.
She spent a year spearheading a campaign for answers from the college, called out the school’s cover-up, and forced an independent investigation that found Braeden’s death was preventable and blame rested on the school’s administration and athletic staff.
Now, her focus has shifted to sharing Braeden’s story with lawmakers in an effort prevent more athletic heat-stroke deaths.
While Washington, D.C., was recently gripped by impeachment proceedings, Atkins-Ingram lobbied lawmakers in support of Bill H.R. 4145, Braeden’s Commission, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who helped push for the independent investigation. The legislation seeks to establish a panel to prevent exertional heat stroke among high school and college athletes by developing best practices for prevention, recognition and treatment.
“For most people, when tragedy happens to them they get to move on because they have some sort of closure. They find the murderer or they find the missing person,” Atkins-Ingram told the Asbury Park Press. “For me, my story never closes because I have to keep talking about it so his story can stay relevant, and we can save somebody else.”
She and her attorney, Jill Elaine Greene, accompanied Smith in meetings with key influencers, including staffers of U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey, whose support is crucial in his role as chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Co-sponsors of the bill include Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ) and Rep. Don Norcross (D-NJ). Education and Labor Committee chair Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and ranking member Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) have indicated willingness to help move the bill forward.
“It wasn’t fun at all because I had to tell my story, tell my truth, 10 times, to each congressman,” Atkins-Ingram said. “I think for them to actually put my face to the story made a difference. Any time a grown man pulls you into a hug I know I‘ve won them over. If you have common sense this story is unbelievable. I was so drained by the end of the day. My head was spinning.’’
While no lawsuit has been filed, Atkins-Ingram filed a claim for damages of $10 million from GCC. Bradforth’s father, Sean Bradforth, who lives in South Carolina, filed a separate claim seeking $40 million. GCC trustees are currently denying the claims.
No school officials seem to have suffered consequences. Head football coach Jeff Sims took a better-paying head coaching job at Missouri Southern University; and acting college president Ryan Ruda, who ran the school during the cover-up, was promoted to GCC president.
To voice support for Braeden’s Commission with your Congressional rep, find their contact info at www.house.gov/representatives.