Three Oregon Ducks football players—offensive linemen Doug Brenner and Samuel Poutasi and tight end Cam McCormick—were hospitalized after participating in a series of post-holiday strength and conditioning workouts that The Oregonian reported as “grueling.” They’re currently in fair condition at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at Riverbend, but they’ve been there since late last week, per The Oregonian.
At least one player, Poutasi, was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a severe condition of the liver due to the release of muscle fiber contents into the bloodstream. The syndrome can lead to acute kidney injury and renal failure. One of its main causes is extreme amounts of exercise, and the possibility of contracting it has been a major criticism of CrossFit.
Oregon’s football program is in the midst of a personnel overhaul after the firing of head coach Mark Helfrich following a disappointing 2016 season (the Ducks went 4-8). Part of the overhaul was a reduced role for long-time strength coach Jim Radcliffe. The head strength and conditioning coach for the Ducks since 1988, Radcliffe was essentially replaced when Oregon hired Irele Oderinde from South Florida to assume the same position earlier this month. Oderinde oversaw the workouts in question.
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When he was asked this winter what he expected from his athletes, the Ducks’ new head coach, Willie Taggert, stated that he wanted his football team to “get bigger, bigger, bigger, stronger, stronger, stronger and faster and compete,” and Oderinde seems to have taken that message to heart. The Oregonian describes the workouts that landed the aforementioned players in the hospital as “akin to military basic training, with one said to include up to an hour of continuous Push-Ups and Up-Downs.”
Leon Chang, MD, a doctor who specializes in anesthesiology, spoke with STACK for an article on rhabdomyolysis in 2014. According to Dr. Chang, former athletes who are out of shape or athletes who have had a layoff from intense exercise and are suddenly thrust back into it are at the greatest risk of getting rhabdo. An situation eerily similar to Oregon’s happened in 2013, when 13 Iowa Hawkeyes football players were hospitalized with the syndrome after going through a brutal Squat workout right after they returned from winter break.
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A few Oregons players have disputed the severity of the workouts.
Cleveland Browns Pro Bowl offensive lineman Joe Thomas felt differently, tweeting out that “whoever is behind this should be fired” and taking a shot at the NCAA.
For what it’s worth, Brenner seems to be taking his hospitalization in stride.
Other Oregon players who initially sent out tweets refuting the reports about the workout have since deleted them as Oregon looks to install some semblance of damage control. Whatever went down in those workouts, it seems that the intensity level was too great for a group of athletes who were left to their own devices in terms of workouts during their winter break. Any time athletes are hospitalized because of a workout, it should trigger a major review of the program’s system, and whether those kids should have been put in that position in the first place.