Jack Welding’s family share their side of the story and point out a number of failures in the handling of his death, explaining that they will fight the Coroner’s decision and that they are disgusted with the disrespectful treatment by the 8GL and St Helen’s Cardinals.
On September 16th this year Sportank posted a statement provided to us by the 8GL regarding the death of Jack Welding. This followed a number of online news outlets who had published articles on the death of Jack Welding which had all mentioned that Jack been to his first-ever training session with the St Helens Cardinals Super 8s American Football Team where he had no helmet or shoulder pads and was practising against experienced players wearing helmet and shoulder pads. During this session, Jack took a hit to the head from the helmet of a kitted player and complained to a number of his friends and family over the remainder of the day that he had a sore neck and felt dizzy. Later that evening Jack collapsed twice while out with his father and some friends, he later passed away from a brain haemorrhage in hospital.
Following our publication of the statement from the 8GL, who for clarity is the league that the St Helen’s Cardinals play in, Sportank discussed the matter on a livestream show that same evening. It is worth noting that the 8GL sent the statement to Sportank through their Facebook Page and to date are a ‘faceless’ organisation as they have not publicly revealed who is involved in their running. Also, that they are not part of the official leagues run by the National Governing Body for American Football in the UK (BAFA) and are a new unregulated setup with a more leisurely approach to the sport.
These articles and the 8GL statement were the only information that we had for reference during the Livestream show that evening and as the Coroner had ruled there being no link between Jack’s cause of death and his head injury sustained earlier that day with the St Helen’s Cardinals, the focus of our conversation was on how this tragic event needs to be a cautionary tale for Coaches and Players involved in the sport. We discussed what should happen now as a result i.e No one ever risks training kitted v non-kitted.
Some weeks after the broadcast Jack Welding’s widow, Vicki Naylor, posted a comment on one of our Facebook posts expressing her anger and upset about how the article and Livestream were, in her own words, ‘disrespectful to Jack’. I personally led that particular Livestream and oversaw the related 8GL statement and whist I was certain that we had been careful in how we discussed the topic, I had an awful feeling that we had done something that I had not picked up on.
I watched the Livestream back & re-read the online articles and felt that we had appropriately stuck to the facts available to us. However, I knew that sending such a response to a grieving and angered widow was entirely inappropriate and I wanted to make sure that Sportank was going to do right by Vicki and indeed her friends and family.
I messaged Vicki and we arranged to speak on Zoom. When we spoke, Vicki was joined by Jack’s father, Shaun, and his Stepmother, Lisa. Prior to speaking on the Zoom session, I took a look at Vicki’s Facebook profile and found this post that Vicki had made on March 19th 2020:
On the 6th October 2019 my whole world fell apart when the love of my life, and father of my child, was taken from us. He was only 22.
I’ve been quite closed about the circumstances that caused Jacks death, because I wasn’t ready to relive that night. My method of coping has been to push things out of my mind and hope they go away, but this is the one thing that will never go away. Yesterday, an inquest was held into Jack’s death.
As a family, we may not have got the answers we were hoping for, but one thing was definitely confirmed and that is that Jack shouldn’t have died. He didn’t deserve what happened to him. I think it’s now only fair that Jack’s story is shared with the world and I hope that by doing this someone else’s life can be saved. Jack can’t have died for nothing, and no one should have to suffer the tragedy that we as a family have been through and have to live with.
To understand Jacks story, you have to know how much he loved American football. He’d played flag football for almost a year (non-contact) but was desperate to try full contact, as all young fit and healthy 22-year-olds are he just wanted to get stuck in properly.
On the morning of the 5th October 2019, he went to give the full contact version of the sport a go. He didn’t have any protective gear, and the team he trained with didn’t provide him with any. Jack told me, and 3 other people that day, that he took a bad hit from someone who was wearing full protective gear, which if you know American football is a lot of weight and causes a big impact.
He said he felt as though he had whiplash, and complained about pain, but Jack being the person he was, he refused to get it checked out when I asked him about it. He did state that he would never do it again though, and for Jack to say that it must have really hurt him.
That night Jack went out with his dad and friends to plan his dad’s 50th birthday celebrations. Whilst he was out he collapsed twice, within the space of about 20/30 meters. When he collapsed the second time his head hit the floor. The impact of his head hitting the floor caused a traumatic brain haemorrhage.
Despite the best efforts of the paramedics and the doctors and nurses at A&E, they were unable to bring Jack back. He died at Wigan hospital, with me holding his hand, surrounded by his loved ones. As a family it’s clear to us that the injury he got while playing American football that morning caused him to collapse. There is no other explanation. He’d never collapsed before in his life and he was perfectly fit and healthy, but we weren’t able to prove this at the inquest.
Despite being requested to attend by the coroner, the spokesperson for the football team failed to show up, which speaks a thousand words in itself. They didn’t even give Jack the courtesy or respect of showing up to give their side of the story.
We all know that if jack hadn’t gone to training that morning then he wouldn’t have collapsed and he’d still be here now. If the coaches had said he couldn’t play contact with no helmet or protective gear he wouldn’t have taken such a hard hit and he’d still be here now.
Jack had every reason to live, he didn’t deserve to die. My son doesn’t deserve to grow up without his dad. In my heart I know where the responsibility for Jack’s death lies, and now everyone else does to. I hope you get the peace you deserve Jack.
Obviously reading this post gave me a load of new information about Jack’s death from the family’s perspective and I could instantly see why Vicki, Shaun, Lisa and their extended family and friends would have seen our content as protecting a narrative that they did not agree with. One that absolved the St Helen’s Cardinals of any wrongdoing.
One of the first things that Vicki did was ask me why we hadn’t told their side of the story, why no one had bothered to contact her or to read her Facebook post. I agreed that it was failing on our part that we didn’t contact them and that we wanted to correct it. I also pointed out that even if we had thought about contacting Jack’s family we were likely to have decided not to, simply because as far as we knew we had all the information and had no reason to question it. The articles had been published 6 months prior and there were no other articles since that explained the family’s side.
Questioning The Inquest Findings
Jack’s Father, Shaun, wanted to address the findings of Pathologist Dr Naveen Sharma, who was the individual that examined Jack’s injuries to determine the cause of death. As reported in the Wigan Today article, Dr Sharma said “Externally there was a deep laceration on the back of his head and internally there was a haemorrhage in the same area. This was a very fresh haemorrhage. So I would say that the traumatic brain injury hasn’t been sustained during him coming into contact with anyone while playing American football. The traumatic haemorrhage is consistent with him falling on the path.”
On our Livestream we suggested that Jack tripped or fell (as Dr Sharma had mentioned) however Shaun is adamant that this was not the case and feels the very suggestion of this discredits and disrespects his son. Shaun explains “It’s quite simple, there’s 4 words that you have to think of in all of this. They are Trip, Fall, Slip and Collapse. Now Jack didn’t trip, he didn’t fall, he didn’t slip over anything, he collapsed. That’s all you have to know. Something has made him collapse. Up to that morning, all week, Jack hasn’t had a problem. Then on the Saturday morning after he has come back from training, he’s complained that he took a big hit that he was feeling dizzy and his neck was stiff. Then on the night time he mentioned it a couple more times then he collapsed. So it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realise that something has happened that morning that caused him to collapse at night time. On the Livestream they suggested that he tripped, he didn’t. He collapsed like a pack of cards, like the twin towers. He just went straight down.”
Dr Sharma elaborated his point by saying “Any catastrophic injury sustained from a blow playing American Football would have meant he would have died far sooner.” When talking about this with me Shaun’s said “It’s bullshit that the bloke said there can be no delay to reactions to impact”
Comparing what Shaun and Dr Sharma are saying, it seems as though Dr Sharma is focussing solely on the haemorrhage caused by Jack’s collapse and not anything that lead to Jack collapsing. It seems wrong to me that Dr Sharma hasn’t taken the cause of the collapse into account (however I don’t know enough about Pathology to know whether that’s his job). Here’s a quick analogy to highlight my point of view, let’s say 2 men got into a fight on a large boat. One knocked the other out and the unconscious man fell into the water and drowned. The cause of death would be drowning but the knockout punch would be the thing that caused the man to drown.
Certainly, the question of the cause of the collapse needs to be put to the pathologist. Especially when you look at what credible medical sources say about Whiplash and Concussion. on Whiplash, the NHS state that “It can take several hours for the symptoms to start after you injure your neck”. WebMD mentions that “Symptoms of whiplash may be delayed for 24 hours or more after the initial trauma.”
Then regarding Concussion, which is such a hot topic in American Football, the NHS says the following:
In some people, concussion symptoms can last a few months or more. This is known as post-concussion syndrome. Possible symptoms include:
- problems with memory or concentration
- depression, anxiety and changes in behaviour
All of the above information from Dr Sharwa was stated at the Inquest in Bolton at the start of the first lockdown earlier this year on March 17th. Jack’s family want to fight the Coroner’s conclusion and involve people from the wider sporting community. Shaun explains “I’m gonna fight this, there was no fight left in us at the time. Jack was a big, healthy, tough lad (6ft 3 and a half) and it would take a lot for him to say someone has hurt him. He said the lad got underneath him and knocked his head back.”
Shaun also has concerns over how COVID-19 may’ve put pressure on the officials managing Jack’s death – “The coroner asked me ‘what do want me to put down on the death certificate?’ it feels like it was a rushed thing from their end.” However, Shaun is also quick to point out that the end game is not to point the finger at the club, they just want to make sure that the right thing is done by Jack and that no one else has to suffer the same loss. “We’re not here to blame the Cardinals, we want people to know from top to bottom in the sport that it can happen and not to take risks.”
In terms of options open to Shaun, he can either challenge the Coroner’s verdict or make an official complaint, or both. Reading through a briefing paper on this subject from the House of Commons library, it seems that a challenge is a more complex, expensive and difficult process when compared to an official complaint.
Disrespect From The St Helen’s Cardinals
The way that the St Helen’s Cardinals (and by extension the 8GL) have handled this situation has left Vicki, Shaun, Lisa and a large number of Jack’s family and friends extremely upset. This has compounded their grief further, added a great amount of stress and left them with a feeling of helplessness.
Vicki explains “The team itself we think have been really disrespectful. They never said anything about it. The Coroner asked them to come to the court and obviously, you can’t say ‘no’. The guy waited until we were all in court to then ring up and say “I’ve got COVID I can’t come”. He should’ve said sooner. I searched him on Instagram and he’s’ posting pictures of him drinking with all the lads and I’m like ‘Have you got COVID or not? Like you’ve just used the pandemic to get out of coming and telling your side of the story.’ People have sent me screenshots and messages where the team have said ‘don’t say anything’. They just washed their hands of it saying ‘sorry nothing to do with us’ “
Here’s the Instagram post that Vicki is referring to, it’s from the account of Ste Crehan who was the individual from the St Helen’s Cardinals that Vicki says the Coroner requested to be present at the Inquest.
Now it is of course entirely feasible that Ste was feeling fine on March 15 and then succumbed to Coronavirus within the following 48 hours. However it must be awful for Vicki to see Ste post images like this online while he avoids entirely any contact with Jack’s family regarding Jack’s death or Jack’s involvement, behaviour, attitude, and of course injury at the training session with them the day he died – even avoiding the Coroner’s request to attend the Inquest and not sending anyone in his place.
Vicki aslo sent us the text messages she was referring to where people that know Jack got in touch with people they know that play for St Helen’s:
Obviously, they are not showing the entire conversation so we can’t gain context or real answers from them but it does confirm that the club had instructed players not to say anything about it to anyone. I think considering the severity of the situation, that is a suitable and reasonable policy to have in place to avoid miscommunication, however, the club should have taken the lead and engaged in conversation with the family, even to offer their condolences or an apology.
When someone dies unexpectedly and is considered in good health their loved ones will want to know why. They will want to know what happened leading up to the person’s death and will look for clues as to what could’ve contributed to it. St Helen’s decided to be a closed shop, not commenting, not helping, and not supporting Jack’s grieving family in any way whatsoever.
Shaun expressed the same views as Vicki “For the Cardinals to do that (not show to the inquest) it was disrespectful to Jack”. Vicki went on to say that their behaviour has lead the family to be suspicious of the club. “They’ve got something to hide, we know people that said they know players at the club and when they tried to contact them they were told that they have told not to speak about it. I was never against the team but the way they have acted has really upset me. They don’t respect us and they don’t respect Jack.”
At this point I assured the family that Sportank aren’t here to just blindly defend anything and everything in the sport and also that the lack of compassion from the 8GL and St Helen’s was not typical of the British American Football Community. I honestly believe that if this had been with a BAFA League Club there would have been an outpouring of support for Jack’s family and likely some sort of fundraiser.
I messaged the St Helen’s Cardinals Super 8’s American Football Team Facebook Page, Inquest Invitee Ste Crehan and Head Coach Steve Ashcroft to see if anyone was willing to answer some questions about this matter and the way they have chosen to handle things. Unsurprisingly I had no replies but I have seen Ste Crehan posting on a couple of American Football Facebook Pages since so I at least know he is active, as too is the St Helen’s Facebook Page I contacted.
There are a lot of unanswered questions for the family, and indeed the British American Football Community, especially when you consider that the 8GL teams didn’t like the rules and regulations of BAFA and decided to start their own league with their own governance…
What are the circumstances around Jack’s head injury sustained at the training session? How many Coaches were at the training session? Were the Coaches BAFCA certified at the time of the training session? Was the drill being overseen by a BAFCA certified Coach? Why were experienced players in kit training against unexperienced unkitted players? Why haven’t you tried to even contact Jack’s family and offer your condolences or support? Why didn’t the club send someone else to the Inquest when Ste Crehan was unable to attend?
One of the things that Vicki mentioned to me was that “Jack came home and said he wouldn’t go back to that team. He didn’t like the people there”. This is another red flag for me, had someone thought that Jack just didn’t fit in or was a bit too good or too cocky and decided to light him up to teach him a lesson? All the time the St Helen’s Cardinals and the 8GL remain radio silent over this matter these types of questions will hang over them as people try to make sense of what has happened.
All of the above questions need to be answered and should have been answered a long time ago, St Helen’s and the 8GL need to re-evaluate their approach to this situation and do the right thing. It’s not too late for them to correct the poor and insensitive decisions they have made to date.
Shaun said to me that he needed the help of Sportank so that we could get their points and opinions shared with our audience. He said “I hope you and your followers understand our side of the story. He was such a good lad, never in trouble in his life, he was an amazing family man and partner. He was a big fan of Patrick Mahomes, it was shame that he didn’t get to see him win the Super Bowl. I like to think that he won it for Jack.”
Vicki added “Jack loved the sport, he wanted our son (Josh) to play it.”
Jack’s family are looking at doing some charity work in Jack’s memory, Shaun explained that you couldn’t have a better person as a figurehead for a charitable effort “He was exemplary and if this leads to saving the lives of others, it would be a very positive outcome from Jack’s death”. I explained that Sportank will be happy to support any such activity by providing some money via The Amelie Fund and also promoting any initiatives.
Vicki captured one of the driving forces behind all of this at the end of our conversation when she said “I want Josh to think his Dad was a Hero”.