The Overdose Death of a Cheerleader

By: Tim Myers

While you fill out your college basketball tournament bracket this year, as you cheer on your favorite team and dunk another wing into ranch dressing, I want you to think for a minute about who you’re cheering for.

college sports overdose

You may think you’re cheering on your favorite team, but what you’re really doing is spending time idolizing the NCAA, an institution partly responsible for the death of one of it’s own. Danielle Cogswell, a former University of Louisville cheerleader, died of an overdose in the summer of 2014.

On July 28th, the body of University of Louisville cheerleader Danielle Cogswel was found in an off-campus student-housing complex with ties to the University. The Associate Athletic Director called her death, “saddening.” I call her death criminal.

The twenty-two year old Danielle died from an overdose of heroin, amphetamines, and Xanax. Let me say that again – heroin, amphetamines, and Xanax. Based on the sheer quantity of chemicals in her system, it’s safe to say this wasn’t a one time only, experimentation overdose. Danielle had a serious problem and this is where fault can be, or should have been, pinned on the NCAA and the university.

Dangerous Student Athlete Standards

The University of Louisville is required by the NCAA to do drug screenings of all student-athletes. But guess what? Cheerleading isn’t an NCAA sanctioned sport.

These girls fling themselves over three feet in the air day in and day out. They flip, tumble and, in most cases, are the star attraction of every home and away game. They compete in competitions and their athletic skill is on par with their male counterparts.

The NCAA, though, doesn’t feel these female student athletes deserve the same level of attention to their health as the rest of the student athletes. The tennis team, swimming team, and even the badminton team are required to take drug tests.

The reason that cheerleaders are not tested is simple. They’re required to look good, not perform well.

College basketball players and football players are asked to perform at the highest level, bringing in huge endorsement contracts, advertisers, and boosters. They drug test their athletes to prevent the school from being held accountable for infractions that would impose sanctions. In turn, these would strip the university of the dollars their male athletes earn for the school. So, in the process of making sure they covered their butts from losing money, the school let Danielle slip through the cracks.

Amphetamines, Xanax and heroin promote weight loss. It’s no wonder the university doesn’t test the cheerleaders. Had the NCAA required testing for cheerleaders, Danielle might have gotten the help she needed.

Her coach Todd Sharp said that Danielle was, “an elite gymnast in the upper echelons of our program.” Apparently being an elite gymnast doesn’t mean you’re an athlete and it doesn’t mean the NCAA cares about your health.

A Disturbing Response

Danielle’s story was carried in the national press for a minute or two. It was, however, nothing compared to the coverage a male point guard or god forbid a quarterback would have gotten.

university of Louisville cheerleader

Just search Google for “college sports overdose” and you’ll see nothing for pages and pages but the story of Len Bias. Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose in 1986. Danielle died this year.

Why the NCAA doesn’t drug test cheerleaders I don’t know. Why they don’t consider cheerleading a sport I don’t know. These women are athletes and they deserve just as much care and attention as everybody else. So, will these policies change now that Danielle is gone? Nope.

When asked after Danielle’s death if the University of Louisville will increase drug prevention and education options for cheerleaders and dance teams, Christine Simatacolos, the Associate Athletic Director, responded, “We are constantly reviewing our policies to be sure we are providing the best possible support.”

Fantastic, because after one of your students dies of a drug overdose what really makes a difference is a save your own butt, politically correct answer. Saving your own butt is what brought us to Danielle’s death in the first place.

Hey, Associate Athletic Director Christine Simatacolos, this is what you should have said, “Your goddamn right we will, we will do what ever it takes to make sure this never ever happens again.”

There you go Christine. Next time a young woman dies at your school, that should be your answer.

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