The Associated Press

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August 4, 2001, Saturday, BC cycle

SECTION: Sports News

LENGTH: 527 words

HEADLINE: Northwestern starting safety dies during drills



Northwestern safety Rashidi Wheeler got a call Thursday night from his mother, who wanted to make sure he was taking care of himself in the hot weather.

Don't worry, Wheeler said. He was in "tiptop shape," eager to start a senior season he hoped would carry him into the NFL.

The next day, the 22-year-old collapsed on the field. He died a short time later.

"I can't even really believe it's happened at this point," Wheeler's mother, Linda Will, said by telephone from her home in Ontario, Calif., breaking down as she spoke. "I don't even know how to deal with it."

Wheeler's death came two days after Minnesota Vikings tackle Korey Stringer died of heat stroke following an intense practice in stifling heat. But Northwestern said initial medical reports indicated heat did not contribute to Wheeler's death.

Temperatures were only in the low 80s, and some of Wheeler's Northwestern teammates said the conditions were the best they'd had in recent days.

"It wasn't overly hot or humid," quarterback Zak Kustok aid. "It was actually cooler than it has been."

An autopsy was being conducted Saturday. Outside the Northwestern football stadium, university and U.S. flags were flying at half-staff.

Though Wheeler had asthma, it never kept him from participating in sports. A physical July 12 didn't show any other major problems, Northwestern trainer Tory Aggeler said.

And Wheeler had his inhaler with him during Friday's conditioning drills, which included running wind sprints on a field near Lake Michigan.

"Rashidi actually had his inhaler in his hands," Aggeler said. "That's something important - that they have access to an inhaler in that situation."

Wheeler struggled to catch his breath as he left the field about 5 p.m., said Alan Berkowsky, spokesman for the Evanston Fire Department, which sent paramedics to the scene.

"It got harder and harder for him to catch his breath, and he collapsed," Berkowsky said. "When the trainer got up to him, he was still trying to catch his breath. He stopped breathing, and his pulse also stopped."

Even after he collapsed, Wheeler wanted to continue.

"As we were removing him from the field, he said, 'No, no,"' Aggeler said. "He was alert and we were administering to him in a situation that didn't appear at that time to be totally emergent."

But then Wheeler's condition took a turn for the worse. He did not respond to CPR from the coaching staff or paramedics. He died about an hour later at Evanston Hospital.

"I didn't want to believe it," said Dino Garcia, one of Wheeler's best friends from his hometown of Ontario, Calif. "He had such a bright future ahead of him."

Wheeler, a 6-foot-2, 212-pound strong safety, started all 12 games last season as Northwestern won a share of the Big Ten title. His 88 tackles were third on the Wildcats, and he had a fumble recovery and three pass breakups.

He hoped to play in the NFL and then have a career in business, his mother said.

"He felt he was in tiptop shape," Will said Friday night as friends and family gathered at her house to comfort her. "This is difficult for me. I just talked to my son last night."

Copyright 2001 / Los Angeles Times  
Los Angeles Times


August 9, 2001 Thursday  Home Edition

SECTION: Sports; Part 4; Page 9; Sports Desk

LENGTH: 417 words (Edited for class)

Care-Giving Problems Cited at Northwestern;
Tragedy: Wheeler's mother says trainers failed to locate inhaler and that phones were inoperable.


The mother of Northwestern football player Rashidi Wheeler said Wednesday that team trainers failed to locate an inhaler for her asthma-stricken son, who told them he was dying as they treated him on the field.

Linda Will said on-field phones were inoperable, further hindering medical assistance for Wheeler, who died Friday after collapsing during a conditioning drill.

"There were three [phones] there, but none were operable," Will said. "That forced some of the kids to scramble to their cars for their cell phones to call paramedics."

Will said her family has obtained information that Wheeler died on the field and not at Evanston Hospital, as Northwestern officials had originally stated. Will was critical of the actions of trainer Tory Aggeler and his staff...

Copyright 2001 / Los Angeles Times  
Los Angeles Times


August 9, 2001 Thursday  Home Edition

SECTION: Sports; Part 4; Page 1; Sports Desk

LENGTH: 1309 words (Edited for class)

Crying Shame; College football: Walker accepts accountability for player's death, welcomes Northwestern's review of situation.


Northwestern Coach Randy Walker on Wednesday fought back tears as he apologized for the death of football player Rashidi Wheeler, saying: "I am beyond sorry..."

Although he wasn't on the field when Wheeler collapsed, Walker said he understands fully he is accountable. "I know ultimately it all ends up on my desk," he added...

But Walker defended his insistence that his players be in superb physical condition, able to withstand the grueling drills that he is known for putting his players through.

"I have no doubt a better-conditioned athlete is a whole lot more likely to survive the game of football," Walker said with unintended irony. "I didn't write the rules. But it is a rigorous sport."

At least four players collapsed during last Friday's strenuous drill--28 sprints ranging from 100 to 40 yards--that was a prerequisite for players. The temperature that day on the field along Lake Michigan, on the northern reaches of Northwestern's campus, was in the 80s.

According to reports, paramedics arrived from 30 to 40 minutes after Wheeler collapsed. He was pronounced dead at Evanston Hospital about an hour later...

Walker confirmed Wednesday that the on-field staff phone apparently was not working. Jackson said rescue crews were called via cellular phone.

Because the drill was held before Northwestern officially begins training camp, NCAA rules prohibited coaches from attending. Walker said six trainers as well as two strength coaches were on the field.

Compared to other Division I schools, Walker said, that level of staffing "would be in the 90th percentile of summer workout coverage..."

Asked if there was something the university or he could have or should have done, Walker said, "We're going to review, certainly, everything that we do." He stopped, then said, "I don't know reasonably what more could have been expected..."

The school's investigation is sure to focus on the conditioning drill that Walker demands his players pass--no ifs, ands or buts. "I'll be the first to say: in the 21st century, I'm probably a little bit of a throwback," Walker said...

"Let me say this: Do you suspect Northwestern has a lock on hard work, on conditioning emphasis? I ask that question of our players," Walker said.

"Do you think we're the only ones that after they present you a full scholarship worth $35,000 per year would not reasonably expect you to be in the best shape you could be in?"

He said the running drill is telling because it's like football--a quick burst followed by a brief recovery, followed by more exertion followed by another recovery, and so on.

He said repeatedly that he believes the drill is not unreasonable.

"To paint what we are here, what I am, as outrageous, is very unfair," he said.

At another point, he said, "It's 12 minutes, ballpark, and you run [a total of] 11/4 miles."

And again: "It's a workout they prepare to run all summer. This is not the first time. This was not, hey, guess what we've got for you today."

And: "Our 48-year-old strength coach, Larry Lilja, ran this test a week ago." He also said: "Larry also manages it. He wouldn't let someone run this test that isn't prepared to run."

Lilja, team trainer Tory Aggeler and others were not available for comment Wednesday...

[Walker] said [Aggeler] had been doing yard work when he was called to the lakefront.

Aggeler had helped Wheeler off the field, then went to attend to another player, Walker said, explaining he was told the details later. But Wheeler was not left alone, Walker said; he was with one of the other trainers.

"Somewhere between 15 to 20 minutes from the time he [had stopped] running, is when it went south fast," Walker said.

As Walker arrived at the lakefront, Wheeler was being loaded into an ambulance. Along with several players, Walker followed to the hospital.

Within a half-hour, he said, a doctor broke the news--Wheeler was dead.

Copyright 2001 / Los Angeles Times  
Los Angeles Times


August 13, 2001 Monday  Home Edition

SECTION: Sports; Part 4; Page 1; Sports Desk

LENGTH: 1336 words

Player Adds to Wheeler Details;
College football: Teammate told strength coach that fallen Northwestern player used supplement hours before drill.


Northwestern football player Rashidi Wheeler used a potentially dangerous dietary supplement just hours before engaging in a rigorous conditioning drill during which he collapsed and later died, a teammate told a strength coach as Wheeler was being taken away from the field in an ambulance.

Larry Lilja, Northwestern's longtime strength coach, said late Sunday that the player--whom he declined to name--told him he "had reason to believe" Wheeler had used a supplement the same day as the drill, Aug. 3.

Wheeler was pronounced dead within minutes of his arrival that afternoon at Evanston (Ill.) Hospital, near Northwestern's campus north of Chicago. The comments Sunday mark the first public allegation that Wheeler had used a supplement the day of the drill. Teammates and other sources alleged Friday he had used them previously.

Meantime, Northwestern Coach Randy Walker said Sunday night that he had been asked by Athletic Director Rick Taylor to stop using the drill--a demanding set of 28 sprints from 100 to 40 yards--while the university investigates the circumstances surrounding Wheeler's death.

Walker, who said last week he is "beyond sorry" for Wheeler's death, said he would comply.

"We are going to look at every aspect of this tragedy," Walker said Sunday night. "Running. Conditioning--and that includes the drill.

"I understand the university's desire to be thorough and cover every base," Walker said. "As I said, I welcome the truth."

Told Sunday that the drill would no longer be in use, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, acting as a spokesman for Wheeler's family, said, "It's a little late, isn't it? A little late."

In all, 10 Wildcat players collapsed that day; none of the others has reported serious injury. Temperatures were in the 80s at the field on the northern reaches of Northwestern's campus, along Lake Michigan.

Teammates have said that a number of players were using supplements that day, and when so many went down, suspicions immediately turned to the use of Ultimate Orange and Xenadrine, two supplements well-known in football and athletic circles. Each contains the stimulant ephedrine, banned by the NCAA and the International Olympic Committee. Each also contains caffeine.

Supplements are legally and widely available over the counter and the Internet. They are often promoted as a way to lose weight or to build strength or energy. Millions of people use them safely.

But experts increasingly have warned that they may create serious health risks when used improperly, such as when combined with medication or strenuous activities such as running.

One player, speaking on condition of anonymity, said last Friday, "There have been in the past, and on that day [Aug. 3], there were people taking dietary supplements," adding, "I know it's used on the [Northwestern] team." He said he had seen Wheeler ingest Ultimate Orange "sometime in the winter."

Kim Will, Wheeler's aunt, said Sunday the family remains unsure if Wheeler took Ultimate Orange. She said, though, there is outrage within the family over concerns Northwestern players might have felt enormous pressure to meet Walker's strenuous training regimen. Completing the 28-sprint drill was a prerequisite for players.

Jackson said, "The family is inquiring about the death and will inquire further, but the family is also in intense grief right now.

"It's one thing to say a kid was on heroin or crack cocaine and quite another to discuss authorized drugs. These things are supposed to be safe. The family doesn't want anything said that would discredit Rashidi's life."

David Jenkins, head of Carlsbad-based Next Nutrition, said Friday the company stopped manufacturing Ultimate Orange in May. He did not say why.

Three months earlier, Next Nutrition paid $4 million in an out-of-court settlement to a career Army soldier and Gulf War veteran who had been using Ultimate Orange for more than a year when he suffered a stroke in 1998. There was no admission of guilt and the product is still widely available.

The makers of Xenadrine could not be reached for comment. Asked about the health risks of using ephedra derivatives while exercising, Jenkins said Friday, "All I can say is, see your physician before you use it. It's clearly marked on the bottle. I am sorry to hear about the young man's death."

A funeral for Wheeler, 22, of Ontario, is scheduled today in Pomona. The medical examiner's report listed bronchial asthma as the cause of death; final autopsy results are pending. There is no indication supplement use played a role in his death.

Jackson said if the toxicology tests reveal supplement use played a role in Wheeler's death, he could foresee litigation against the maker.

"This has many ramifications," he said. "Many."

Wheeler's death is one of a number of recent football-related fatalities that have raised questions about possible links to the use of supplements, in particular those that include ephedrine.

Curtis Jones, 34, died last Sunday after playing an indoor arena-style professional football game in Las Vegas, apparently from cardiac arrest. A three-sport star at San Pedro High who played college football at Utah, he had used a capsule called Hydroxycut for three months ending in August 1999, according to his wife. It contains ephedrine; effects can linger for years, experts say.

The manufacturers of Hydroxycut could not be reached for comment.

In February, Florida State linebacker Devaughn Darling collapsed and died after a workout. Autopsy results were inconclusive about the cause of death but revealed in his system the presence of ephedrine.

Initially, the Northwestern inquiry into Wheeler's death was expected to focus on the drill and staff readiness for any medical emergency. A phone on the field where the drill was run did not work; rescue crews were called by cellular phone.

Jackson, appearing at a press conference last Thursday on the family's behalf, said then it appeared that "the infrastructure was inadequate."

The disclosures about supplement use on the team, however, have broadened the focus. An aspect of any inquiry is now sure to include the issue of whether Northwestern officials encouraged, ignored or even knew about the extent of supplement use on the football team.

"All these stories continue to increase the liability against the university," Jackson said.

Jackson also said that if supplement use was not uncommon among Northwestern football players "and everyone knew about it, then everyone associated with the team would have known about it."

Walker has previously said he is unaware of the extent of supplement use on his team.

Lilja, the strength coach, said Northwestern conducts random tests of its athletes throughout the year. A warning on the Ultimate Orange label instructs athletes subject to NCAA, IOC or other drug tests to stop using it five days before providing a urine sample.

Asked if he provided Northwestern athletes with supplements, Lilja said no.

"If you take any supplements," he said, "you need to clear it with Tory," a reference to team trainer Tory Aggeler, "to make sure it's cleared with the NCAA." Aggeler could not be reached Sunday for comment.

Northwestern requires its players to tell a team doctor if they are taking any medication or over-the-counter substances, including over-the-counter supplements. Wheeler underwent a July 12 physical. It remains unclear what he told the doctor that day. Asked about Ultimate Orange and Xenadrine, Lilja said, "If [any player] had come to Tory or me, we would have told him not to take it. Absolutely."

Lilja also said it's unclear to him why any Northwestern football player might have felt the need for a dietary supplement. "The team worked hard all summer," he said. "They were in great shape."

If it's true that supplements were used, "that would have only made the [drill] harder," he said, adding, "Why they felt they had to use an insurance policy baffles me."

LOAD-DATE: August 13, 2001



Tuesday, August 21
Transcript of Wheeler 911 calls news services

The following is a transcript of several 911 calls received by dispatchers at the Evanston (Ill.) Fire Department after Northwestern football player Rashidi Wheeler collapsed Aug. 3 during an on-campus summer conditioning drill, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. They were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act:

5:03 p.m. -- Cell phone call made to Evanston 911 center.

Trainer Tory Aggeler: We need a paramedic.

Evanston Dispatcher: Where?

Aggeler: At the sports and aquatic center, OK.

Evanston Dispatcher: Hello ... can you hear me? . . . What have you got over there, sir?

Aggeler: We have got ... (garble).

Evanston Dispatcher: Hello, hello, sir? ... Hello?

5:04 p.m.

Evanston Dispatcher: Do you have something going on at the sports and aquatic place? I got this really bad cell phone call about someone unconscious or something like that.

Northwestern Dispatcher: I don't know if there's anything going on at sports aquatics. Why, you got a call from there?

Evanston Dispatcher: Well, I don't know. I got this really bad cell phone call, some guy, I could only make it out as they needed an ambulance over there. I don't exactly know what's going on, but . . .

Northwestern Dispatcher: OK, I could get someone over there.

5:04 p.m. -- Cell phone call is made by campus police officer on the scene.

Officer: How are you doing? ... I got a call for you from Evanston about an ambulance request from a soccer field.

Second Evanston Dispatcher: This is a non-emergency call?

Officer: This is an emergency. We need an ambulance. Would you like to speak to him?

Second Evanston Dispatcher: Well, yeah.

Officer: Go ahead, sir.

Second Evanston Dispatcher: Hello?

Justin Chabot, (coordinator of football operations): Hi, Justin Chabot with Northwestern football. We tried to call an ambulance. We are out at the lake field here at Northwestern University. ... I guess the cell phone died.

Evanston Dispatcher: At the Tech Institute?

Chabot: We are behind the sports and aquatic center.

Second Evanston Dispatcher: Is this for the 11-year-old with the cut toe?

Chabot: No, this is for a football player that's got a heatstroke thing going on.

Second Evanston Dispatcher: All right, what building are you at?

Chabot: We are behind sports and aquatic center on the lawn on the lake at Northwestern University. They are going to want to enter the campus off of Lincoln Street and come around.

Second Evanston Dispatcher: Hang on.

Chabot: OK.

Second Evanston Dispatcher (to someone near her): Do they have an address for the sports and aquatic center?

Second Evanston Dispatcher (To Chabot): Got an officer going over there.

Chabot: Yeah, but we need to get an ambulance.

Second Evanston Dispatcher (to someone near her): Heatstroke, heatstroke. Do you have an address?

Second Evanston Dispatcher (To Chabot): All right, we'll get somebody out there. How old is he?

Chabot: He's 21 years old and he's not doing good.

Second Evanston Dispatcher: It's behind the aquatic center?

Chabot: It's on the field hockey ... fields.

5:06 p.m. -- Ambulance and fire truck dispatched

Northwestern Dispatcher: OK, heatstroke was just confirmed. Finally someone got through to me. It's going to be . . . field hockey field behind sports aquatics . . . and we got officers responding and they should be there in a minute.

5:08 p.m.

Truck 23: We are en route.

Evanston Dispatcher: OK, it's going to be one of the field hockey fields or one of the soccer fields just south of the sports and aquatic center. You got to go down Lincoln to the whole drive area there.

Truck 23: OK, we know where it's at, thank you.

Northwestern Dispatcher: They are doing CPR on the subject right now, so if you could tell them to kind of speed it up.

Evanston Dispatcher: They should be there in a minute.

Ambulance 21: Where's 2 (22) coming from?

Evanston Dispatcher: I assume quarters.

Ambulance 21: Divert them over here to the Tech building and the stubbed toe. We are going to divert over to the heatstroke.

Evanston Dispatcher to Ambulance 22: OK, Ambulance 21 is right there, they can go to the heatstroke if you want to take the stubbed toe. They are much closer.

Northwestern Dispatcher: 21, come off of Lincoln, pull your ambulance right through the gate, right to the patient.

Ambulance 21: 10-4.

5:09 p.m. -- Engine 23 on the scene

5:11 p.m. -- Ambulance 21 arrives at the scene

5:22 p.m. -- Ambulance 21 en route to Evanston Hospital

5:25 p.m. -- Ambulance 21 arrives at Evanston Hospital

5:45 p.m. -- Wheeler pronounced dead






Friday, August 24
Mother files against school, coach Walker

Associated Press

CHICAGO -- The mother of Northwestern University football player Rashidi Wheeler, who collapsed and died during a preseason conditioning drill, filed a lawsuit Thursday against the university and football coach Randy Walker.


Also named as defendants in the lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court by Linda A. Will were Northwestern athletic director Rick Taylor, head football athletic trainer Terrence "Tory" Aggeler, and four other members of the school's football staff: Larry Lilja, Thomas Christian, Justin Chabot and Michael Rose.

Wheeler, a chronic asthmatic, collapsed during an Aug. 3 preseason conditioning drill involving a series of wind sprints. He was pronounced dead a short time later at Evanston Hospital.


Bronchial asthma was listed as the cause of death.


In a news conference Tuesday, one of Will's attorneys, James Montgomery, said Walker and Taylor would not be named in the lawsuit. But Thursday night, another of Will's attorneys, Randall Schwartz, said Walker was named because "the thought is that the coach is the captain of the ship and these things, the practice ... the things that were associated with that practice were set up under his watch."


He said Taylor was named for the same reason.


Schwartz said the action does not seek a specific amount in damages.


"Basically, it talks about the failure of Northwestern to have proper equipment and properly trained people, and various things happened that day," Schwartz said.


The attorney maintained that at one point either Aggeler or one of his assistants gave Wheeler a bag to breathe into, thinking that he was hyperventilating.


"If you're having an asthma attack that's the last thing you need," Schwartz said. "That sped him to his death."

At Tuesday's news conference, Will, of Ontario, Calif., said it took as long as 40 minutes for paramedics to be called after her son collapsed. She also said there was no doctor present, no oxygen on the field and no ambulance standing by.


While Will has questioned whether the workout was truly "voluntary," the core of her lawsuit was the alleged lack of medical attention.


A Northwestern official confirmed Thursday night that the school had received a copy of the lawsuit.

"Obviously, we are disappointed by this action, but it does not alter the university's sympathy for Rashidi's family for their loss," Northwestern spokesman Alan Cubbage said.