You’ve probably never heard of him. I had, but that’s because I follow Missouri Tiger sports. This sort of thing happens all too often to young athletes, who, on the outside, are the picture of health.
Aaron O’Neal, 19, a redshirt freshman linebacker for the Missouri Tigers died following a voluntary conditioning workout on Tuesday. Here is an eerie slideshow produced by the Columbia Daily Tribune showing 18 pictures of O’neal during and after the workout, including his collapse and his being helped off the field. Not long afterward, O’Neal was pronounced dead.
Right now, all we have is speculation as to why Aaron died. The Boone County Medical Examiner, Valerie Rao, has done a preliminary autopsy and has not issued any conclusions. She has issued an array of tests to be done on Aaron to determine what caused him to go into arrest. The tests provide a case study of specialization and comparative advantage.
■ A neuropathologist at Missouri will examine O’Neal’s brain.
■ A cardiac pathologist in Miami will examine his heart.
■ An AEGIS lab in St. Louis will perform toxicology tests for substances including steroids and ephedrine and other drugs.
■ Other labs will do microscopic examinations to search for the presence or effects of other drugs and alcohol in the liver and the lungs, as well as examinations of spinal tissue and fluids.
■ Other tests will be conducted to determine electrolyte levels in an attempt to determine whether dehydration — and heat stroke — contributed to O’Neal’s death.
■ Tests for an occurrence of blood clots in the lungs and brain also will be run, even though Rao said she did not find evidence of embolisms in her autopsy examination. Rao said she even anticipated ordering a test for sickle cell anemia, though she said she saw no indication of that disease.
Athletes often need to be pushed by coaches and peers to realize their potential. In the slideshow, Pat Ivey, Mizzou’s director of strength and conditioning (and a former student of mine), is seen urging on Aaron. In reports I’ve read, fellow athletes also were urging him on. It’s the nature of any workout – get the most out of yourself and your teammates. But it’s next-to-impossible for those monitoring workouts and scrimmages to tell if an athlete is winded or if he is experiencing a medical emergency. You can tell that simply by looking at the slideshow (especially slide 13). Sometimes, unfortunately (but rarely), something terrible happens.