NCAA logo next to football helmet on the grass

NCAA Concussion Lawsuit Alleges Players Put at Risk for Brain Trauma

An NCAA concussion lawsuit has been filed against the organization by players who say they were not protected from the long-term damage created by head injuries. Separately, a lawsuit was also filed by NCAA players against Riddell, a helmet maker, for misleading athletes about the safety of its helmets. The lawsuit is not the first NCAA concussion lawsuit filed against that organization, and it joins lawsuits filed against other sports organizations including the National Football League and the National Hockey League.

Big 12 Conference a Co-Defendant in NCAA Concussion Lawsuit

Along with the NCAA, (the National Collegiate Athletic Association) the Big 12 Conference is also named in the lawsuit. The plaintiffs alleges the defendants failed to provide a safe environment for players, failed to warn players of the long-term risks associated with concussions, and failed to educate players about prevention of head injuries.

“The NCAA and its member conferences have used this authority to compel all football players to follow the NCAA’s policies, rules, and regulations with an iron fist,” the lawsuit argues. “Unfortunately, the NCAA’s (and member conferences’) policies in practice and as enforced have severely damaged many of the players the NCAA was supposed to protect, including Plaintiffs.”

The plaintiffs—Cory Brandon, Kelvin Chaisson, Derrick Cherry, Jarrod Blake Roberts, and Joseph Walker—quote the NCAA as claiming “its core mission is to provide student-athletes with a competitive environment that is safe,” promising to protect its athletes’ “health and safety.”

Cory Brandon and his fellow NCAA concussion lawsuit plaintiffs allege they have all suffered brain injuries as a result of the NCAA and Big 12 Conference’s actions.

“Mr. Brandon suffered numerous concussions while playing football in the Big 12 and is now suffering from several symptoms indicative of long-term brain and neurocognitive injuries resulting from his college football career,” the lawsuit states.

Similar allegations are made by each of the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit alleges that the NCAA makes around $1 billion annually from its college sports, with the Big 12 collecting more than $2.6 billion. But the money brought in doesn’t go to the athlete's salaries, pensions, or medical benefits. Instead, the NCAA and Big 12 Conference keep profits that result from student-athletes’ work and assumption of risks. Furthermore, student-athletes are not given medical or financial support if they sustain concussions, even if those concussions occur during practices or games.

“Defendants’ conduct is particularly egregious in light of the fact that their policies and procedures—or lack thereof—leave student-athletes like Plaintiffs and the Class wholly unprotected from sustaining brain injuries at a particularly early and vulnerable part in their lives,” the NCAA concussion lawsuit alleges. “Unlike professional athletes, who at least have bargaining power through player unions, and some resources to pay for medical care necessitated by head injuries caused during their professional careers (many of which are covered by the recent NFL Concussion Settlement), collegiate players typically range in age from 18-23 and are just beginning their adult lives.”

Riddell Faces Concussion Lawsuit of its Own

Meanwhile, Riddell faces a lawsuit alleging it mislead athletes about the safety of its helmets. Like the NCAA concussion lawsuit, the Riddell suit was filed by former college players. Among the allegations against Riddell are that its marketing relied on a scientific study that showed its helmets were associated with a lower risk of concussions than helmets by other manufacturers. That study, however, was allegedly funded by Riddell.

Riddell told the Associated Press that the lawsuit was without merit.

Brain Injuries are a Serious Concern for Athletes

Concerns about brain injuries have been on the rise lately, with more former NFL players being diagnosed posthumously with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition linked to repeated head trauma. One athlete recently diagnosed with CTE is Mel Farr, a former running back with the Detroit Lions. Reports indicate Farr, who died suddenly of a massive heart attack, had stage 3 CTE.

Symptoms of CTE include loss of memory, confusion, aggression, and depression. Football players who have suffered repeated head traumas are at an increased risk of CTE, but they cannot be diagnosed with it until an autopsy is conducted.

Dr. Anne McKee, director of Boston University’s CTE Center, said Farr had symptoms of Stage 3 CTE, including memory loss, behavioral symptoms, and personality changes. Farr had joined a lawsuit filed against the NFL alleging the organization failed to warn players about the risks of repeated head trauma.

“What we called it back then was ‘getting your bell rung’,” Mel Farr Jr. told ESPN. “If you took a hard hit, you got up, you were a little woozy, ‘Oh, he just got his bell rung’—you were able to go back to the huddle.”

Although Farr died of a heart attack, other former player deaths have been linked to CTE. In 2012, former Patriot player Junior Seau committed suicide. He was later diagnosed as having CTE.

The family members of players like Seau, who have been diagnosed with CTE, are trying to raise awareness of the condition through events such as CTE Awareness Day and a website called Faces of CTE. One of the athletes whose mother is working to raise awareness about CTE is Paul Bright, who died at age 24 after only playing football up until the ninth grade. His mother, Kim Archie, said he showed signs of mental deterioration before he died in a high-speed motorcycle accident. He was later diagnosed with Stage 1 CTE.

The NFL has agreed to a $1 billion settlement to end a concussion lawsuit filed by former NFL players alleging the league knew about the risks associated with repeated brain injuries but did not warn players. Meanwhile, a previous NCAA concussion lawsuit resulted in a $75 million settlement with former athletes.

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