NU investigating use of banned supplement in players death

Monday, August 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) _ Northwestern University is investigating whether Rashidi Wheeler and other Wildcats football players took a banned, energy-enhancing supplement before Wheeler collapsed and died on a practice field earlier this month.

``They're just looking at use of supplements _ whether or not that was involved in the death,'' school spokesman Mike Wolf said Sunday.

Wolf said players are required to inform team trainers of any supplements they are using at the time of their annual physicals. Wheeler passed his physical July 12.

The 22-year-old safety, a chronic asthmatic, died Aug. 3 after he collapsed and was unable to catch his breath. After use of his inhaler didn't help, he stopped breathing and was pronounced dead about an hour later at Evanston Hospital, officials said.

Wheeler, a senior sociology major, starred at Damien High School in Ontario, Calif., where he lettered in football, track and basketball.

Whether Wheeler and other players used a supplement is one question the university is asking as part of its review of what happened the day Wheeler died, what emergency procedures were in place and how those procedures were implemented.

Part of the investigation is whether Wheeler received quick and adequate medical attention by the trainers. Of reports that the trainers were busy assisting other players who had collapsed, Wolf said, ``Collapsed is too strong a word,'' but confirmed they were attending to other players.

Of the use of supplements, there is no evidence Wheeler was using them and Wolf said it wasn't known if any players were using them.

But according to the Chicago Tribune, Wheeler's close friend, NU linebacker Kevin Bentley, said he heard teammates discussing a supplement called Ultimate Orange, which contains an herbal ephedrine. Ephedrine is banned by the NCAA.

``People started saying they were going to take it or might take it,'' he told the Tribune. ``I didn't see anyone take it.''

Wheeler's family wants the focus of his death to remain on apparent breakdowns in medical care as he died on the field, regardless of whether he was using supplements.

``The (supplement story) doesn't change anything,'' said Kim Will, Wheeler's aunt. ``We're trying to keep the focus on what procedures were followed so that this does not have to happen to any other athlete. We're seeking major changes so that safeguards are in place.''

The Cook County medical examiner's office indicated in a preliminary report that Wheeler died from bronchial asthma. A toxicology report, which will test for ephedrine, will not be completed for several weeks. Wolf said the school's investigation won't be completed at least until that report comes back.

However, Wheeler's family, with the help of Rev. Jesse Jackson, has launched its own investigation.

``We believe there has been negligence,'' said Kim Will.