Cause for alarm

UPDATE: Spencer Tillman issued the following statement to Oklahoma Gazette:

“I exchanged messages with Austin’s father. I consider the matter over. They’ve lost a son. Please let the family and the matter rest. It matters little at this point what anyone, official or otherwise, communicated to me. I take full responsibility for what I said.

“Lastly, I want to be perfectly clear: No one connected to OU athletics has shared any information with me regarding this matter whatsoever. For these express situations, I keep my distance from my school to maintain objectivity. What contact I do have is purely to support or encourage those in the difficult role of leadership.”

ADDITIONAL UPDATE: Cherokee Ballard, public information officer for the Medical Examiner’s office, released the following statement:

“Our pathologist determined the cause and manner of death based on the
medical evidence and tests performed. In our opinion, the death was
accidental.”

The report of the medical examiner’s investigation signed July 5 checked the “accident” box regarding the OU senior linebacker’s manner of death. An information copy of the report was released a week later.

The one-page report listed five painkillers — oxymorphone, morphine, hydrocodone, hydromorphone and oxycodone — and the anti-anxiety medication alprazolam. The cause of death is detailed: “Pulmonary edema and aspiration pneumonia” due to “central nervous system depression” due to “probable mixed drug toxicity” from the substances, the report reads.

Click here to download a PDF of the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s report on Box’s cause of death.

The website of the Houston station, The Game 1560-AM, featured an online audio link of Tillman’s comments Aug. 23, but it was not on the site this morning.

“It was pulled down, and I haven’t been able to get a clear answer on it,” said Del Johnson, a station producer. “I think it might have been pulled down because the file was corrupted.”

‘NO WAY’
Kenny Mossman, OU’s senior associate athletic director for communications, responded to Tillman’s allegation this morning.

“We understand that Austin’s passing was the result of an accident and have never believed, heard or discussed anything to the contrary,” Mossman wrote in a statement.

left Spencer Tillman

Wade Burleson, senior pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, has served as the family’s spokesman. He released the following statement.

“Spencer is a fantastic guy, and I like him a great deal,” Burleson said. “He is woefully mistaken, however, on his conjecture. Those of us who knew Austin understood his level of excitement for the coming football year, the detailed plans he had for his future after graduation from OU and the wonderful relationship he had with his girlfriend, parents and teammates. He suffered from no depression.

“In my job as police chaplain, I have been at the scene of nearly 100 suicides. There is no way Austin committed suicide. There was no note, no signs and no ultimate reason for Austin to intentionally end his life. On the contrary, he had a great deal for which to live. His death was accidental.”

Box’s parents, Gail and Craig, characterized their son’s death as an accident in a July 11 statement.

“It is with much sadness we look back and see that recently Austin had turned to other methods of managing his pain,” they wrote. “Methods that we hope if others are employing, they will see this tragic accident as a message and think about the consequences. Our greatest regret is that Austin did not feel he could share his pain with those who loved him, and those he touched. He chose to suffer in silence rather than to feel he let someone down, or hurt his family.”

Box died May 19, less than a week after earning his diploma. The athlete had redshirted as a freshman and never played his senior season of eligibility at Oklahoma. After breaking his back at Enid High School, the standout was plagued with elbow and knee injuries during his first two OU seasons, and endured relentless back pain that required him to rest for five games.

Tillman, a former All-American running back at OU in the 1980s, served as captain on the 1985 national championship team. UPI named him the 1982 Player of the Year in the Big Eight Conference. The Tulsa native earned bachelor’s degrees in both journalism and communications from OU.

In 1999, Tillman joined CBS Sports as lead studio analyst for “College Football Today.” He’s also covered the NCAA tournament and anchors regional broadcasts on Fox Sports Net. He has worked as WABC-TV’s sports anchor in New York.

Austin Box photos by Jerry Laizure

Rob Collins

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