McCrae Williams died tragically in September of 2017 while attending his first year of college at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. Williams, who was recruited as a sophomore in high school as a standout lacrosse student-athlete by Lafayette, was fulfilling his childhood dream of becoming a member of the Division 1 Lafayette College Leopards.
Unfortunately, Williams passed away only a couple of weeks into his freshman year. The cause of his death was blunt force head trauma resulting from a fall in his dorm room. The former Noble and Greenough School (MA) star goalie had attended a party earlier in the day. After Williams fell, he was placed in his dorm room bed and was “Jansported” (also known as drunkpacking, backpacking or turtling), which is when a filled backpack is strapped to someone who appears intoxicated. That person is then laid on their side to prevent possible aspiration of their vomit.
Williams was then left alone while others went to another party that night. It was not until 4 p.m. the next day, twenty-two hours after his fall, that his classmates decided to do something. Even then, they did not call for help but rather carried him outside to a car where they planned to drive him to a medi-clinic. Before they could leave campus, the coaching staff heard what was going on and called 911.
Williams was then taken to a hospital where he was pronounced brain dead, passing away the following day. His organs were gifted to five fortunate individuals who now have a new lease on life, thanks to his generous organ donation. The reality is that if one student had called for help, McCrae would be alive today.
THE FOUNDATION: In the aftermath of his death McCrae’s family decided to put forth their efforts into making some good out of this horrific tragedy. They started the McCrae James Williams Foundation in his memory to advocate for Good Samaritan policies across college campuses and to expose the dangerous practice of Jansporting. The hope is to have a positive impact and carry forward his legacy in a meaningful way.
SURVEY: In an effort to understand the practice of Jansporting or backpacking, the Foundation developed a survey for college students on Jansporting / backpacking and Good Samaritan policies. Their goal was to find out if students knew about Jansporting, how prevalent it is, what their knowledge about Good Samaritan policies were, and how comfortable they were to call for help when someone needs medical attention.
The results of the initial survey were startling. Generally speaking, “Jansporting” seems to be both an epidemic, while also flying under-the-radar. This practice is well-known and common for those in high school and in college; however, recent graduates are not aware of it all. Young people are using this tactic as a substitute for staying with a friend, who is in need and then calling for help.
Additionally, a highly interesting development from the results showed that athletes are nearly three times less likely to call for help than non-athletes. Many students recognize the need to call for help in a particular situation, but they do not call, for fear of getting in trouble with their team and/or their Coach. The survey accumulated about 1200 responses but, in reality, the Williams family knew that they needed more data nationally and a representation of a broad base of schools (public/private/large/small) in order to advance the study and accumulate additional data.
To learn more about why student-athletes are less likely to call for help than a non-athlete, the Williams family held a College Coaches Forum with coaches from the Division 1 and Division 3 levels. The schools included Ivy League schools, along with some smaller private colleges. There was a small group in attendance, but the group learned that there seems to be a disconnect between the Administration, the Athletic Departments (Director and Coaches) and the Student-Athletes.
The findings from the group study were that the coaches felt that they were in a difficult position – trying to maintain the demands from Administration for an incident-free team but, at the same time, honor the Good Samaritan policy at their school and not discipline an athlete for an alcohol-related medical emergency. They understood how overriding the Good Samaritan policy with discipline would drive behavior underground and, while they want athletes to do the right thing, they felt a bit stuck in a tough spot. They all recognized that this disconnect needs to be addressed and that, from Administration down to the student-athletes, there is education of the Good Samaritan policy and they have the same rights as non-athletes.
Both the initial survey results and the Coach Forum moved the Foundation forward in a positive direction. In December of 2018, the Foundation connected with a research team down at UNC Greensboro who has been directly involved in a number of student-athlete research for the NCAA’s APPLE Institute, which overseas Student-Athlete health and wellness nationally. They shared McCrae’s story with the NCAA’s Chief Medical Officer who was deeply concerned with the results of our survey, as well as what was learned at the Coaches Forum. Ultimately the Foundation donated a grant to a group who has examined the survey’s data, expanded and developed a more in-depth robust survey which is now being initially distributed through the NCAA’s freshman student-athlete network. The Foundation will also be on the agenda for two January 2020 national conferences for the NCAA’s Apple Institute Conferences and in 2020, the Foundation will be giving another grant to UNC to continue their work with the NCAA and partner with NASPA and N4A to broaden the survey and their research.
The ultimate goal is to shed light on this incredibly critical matter and to hopefully influence the NCAA to make a policy recommendation to all universities/colleges that student-athletes need to be apprised the same rights as non-athletes, and that the Administration, as well as the Athletic Departments/Coaches, can not punish a student-athlete who makes a call for help when a medical emergency arises.
SCHOLARSHIPS: In tandem with these efforts, the Foundation also wants to honor McCrae Williams and his legacy by offering Lacrosse Scholarships to recruited New England athletes who are in financial need. For the Scholarship’s inaugural year, the Foundation will be offering $2,500 college scholarships to two New England lacrosse recruited athletes (male or female) who are in financial need. The hope is that if the scholarship fund drive grows, there will be an increase in the number of scholarship dollars in the near future.
Applicants should currently be in their senior year in High School, recruited and accepted to play lacrosse in college and thus anticipating their Freshman year in September of 2020. The deadline for the application is January 15, 2020, and the recipients announced in the Spring of 2020. The application is online on the McCrae Williams website.
Whoever you talk to, whether it be former teammates, coaches or anyone in the local high school lacrosse community, Williams’s name always comes with comments of what an incredible young man he was, both on and off the field.
Please check out the McCrae James Williams Foundation website and read tributes by his friends and coaches. There is also a poignant tribute video of Williams done by Boston University lacrosse student-athlete Jett Dziama, a former Nobles teammate and good friend of Williams): A Tribute to MW3