The scene at Grambling State University two weeks ago was surreal.
Charter buses at the athletic complex sat idle and completely empty. Instead of being on the buses, more than 20 Grambling football players took a stance, deciding to sit out their game against Jackson State on Oct. 19. The cause for the revolt was weeks of turmoil surrounding the GSU football program. Head coach Doug Williams was fired. His replacement, George Ragsdale, was fired shortly after.
But the tipping point for Grambling State players was the condition of the weight room and the numerous cases of Staph infection in the program. Grambling is not alone. Three members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — kicker Lawrence Tynes, guard Carl Nicks and rookie Johnthan Banks — have all contracted the bacteria.
With programs at both the college and professional level dealing with Staph infections, a question to McKinney Independent School District Athletic Director Shawn Pratt revealed that the district has numerous protocols in place to protect athletes from the bacteria.
“I’m real comfortable with our protocol and what we do,” Pratt said.
Pratt, who was named Athletic Director at MISD in December of 2008, said Staph is more common today than it ever has been. It is a growing issue, not only in sports but in hospitals and society.
Staph (Staphylococcus aureus) is a bacteria that causes infections in different parts of the body. Staph causes mild infections on the skin, but can also cause more serious skin infections or infect surgical wounds, the bloodstream, the lungs, or the urinary tract. There is also a stronger strand of Staph, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), that has become resistant to many forms of antibiotics.
Around 25 to 30 percent of people carry staph in their nose but are never infected by it. Staph can be a problem if it manages to get into the body, often through a cut. Staph is one of the most common causes of skin infections in the country.
Pratt, who was hired as North’s head football coach when the school opened in 2000, said that although North was sparkling clean, it had no carpet to protect against bacteria. Staph was present throughout North and officials “really struggled” to maintain it.
The North coaches weren’t sure why the Staph was present, but made an effort to try to isolate the problem and when the issue became very serious, Pratt called the health department and his personal physician to help battle the bacteria.
From that circumstance, Pratt and MISD were able to develop a set of protocols to better protect facilities and prevent outbreaks of Staph.
Pratt said when a student is suspected of having Staph, that student’s laundry will not be done at the school, coaches isolate where the athlete changes clothes and the student can’t participate in athletics until cleared by a doctor. There is also no there is no sharing of clothes or towels in the locker room.
He said if there are numerous cases, the district will bring in Earmark, its custodial group, to do an “emergency cleaning” of the entire facility. Pratt said the custodial company already cleans the facility on a regular basis.
He said the outbreak at North caused students and coaches to be extremely cautious, saying players had to take all equipment home and have all equipment disinfected.
The protocol has helped the district better protect itself from further breakouts, but Pratt noted the case at North changed his perception on how serious Staph is, and how it can be spread.
“I don’t think cleanliness prevents them all the time,” he said. “There are just some strands of it now these days that are becoming more and more resistant.”