The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) faces more lawsuits, alleging it failed to protect athletes from brain injuries while they played football. Included in the new lawsuits is a proposed class action, filed by a former player for Wilkes University, and a lawsuit filed by a former Notre Dame player. The NCAA already faced numerous brain injury lawsuits and reached a proposed settlement to address claims, though some groups have objected to that settlement. More athletes—both professional and amateur—are coming forward with their allegations that their time playing sports resulted in life-threatening brain trauma.
Brain Injury Lawsuit Filed Against NCAA and Wilkes University
In the late 1990s, Victor Pacchioni played linebacker and defensive end at Wilkes University. He recently filed a lawsuit alleging concussions he sustained during his time playing in the university’s football program resulted in headaches, memory loss, and difficulty with concentration. In his lawsuit, Pacchioni alleges the NCAA and Wilkes University knew players were at risk of traumatic brain injuries but did not protect them from such harm.
Pacchioni’s lawsuit seeks class-action status to represent athletes who played for Wilkes University between 1952 and 2010. According to his lawsuit, Pacchioni played for Wilkes University for four years beginning in 1998. During that time, he suffered repeated head injuries but was sent back out into games without proper testing to determine how serious his injuries were.
The NCAA already faces 357 lawsuits that have been consolidated for pretrial proceedings in multidistrict litigation in Illinois. Those lawsuits name both the NCAA and various colleges, and accuse them of not adequately protecting their athletes. The lawsuits are consolidated under MDL 2492. Other lawsuits have also been filed that are not part of the MDL.
NCAA and Notre Dame Face Traumatic Brain Injury Lawsuits
A lawsuit has also been filed against the NCAA and Notre Dame alleging players were given unsafe training in blocking that made them more susceptible to brain injuries. John Askin, who played as a lineman from 1982 through 1986 and then went on to play in the NFL, filed the lawsuit. According to Askin’s NCAA brain injury lawsuit, he and other players were taught to lead blocks with their helmets and were given painkillers to manage their brain injuries.
In recent years, Askin was diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease. He alleges he has many of the same symptoms that are associated with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), though CTE cannot be diagnosed until after death. Askin also says he has symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s.
Additionally, Askin alleges prohibited drugs were distributed “openly in jars and buckets without any supervision, prescriptions, controls or required record-keeping.” Those drugs included Codeine, Oxycodone, Vicodin and a cream used for racehorses. The purpose of the drugs was allegedly to ensure players could continue playing while hurt. However, the use of the painkillers would also have prevented athletes from knowing how injured they might be, which could put them at risk of even more severe injuries.
“Notre Dame masked pain sustained by John Askin during practices and games and made him far more likely to remain in practices and games when he should have removed himself and sought medical attention,” Askin’s lawsuit alleges.
TBI Lawsuit Filed by 20 Former NCAA Athletes
In addition to the Askin and Pacchioni lawsuits, the NCAA faces a lawsuit filed in Nov. 2018 by Jeffrey Williams and approximately 20 other players. That lawsuit also alleges the NCAA placed profit and self-promotion ahead of athlete safety and well-being. Williams, who played for Anderson University in the 1990s, also named Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference in his lawsuit.
According to his lawsuit, Williams suffered repeated concussions and now lives with symptoms of long-term brain injuries.
In 2014, the NCAA agreed to pay up to $75 million to settle a different brain injury lawsuit. Of that $75 million, $70 million would go to medical monitoring, but the settlement did not include any money for damages or medical treatment. It did require the NCAA to make changes to brain injury protocols. Approximately 22 athletes affected by the settlement, however, filed objections to it, mainly because they want the settlement to include medical treatment.
Samantha Greiber, who played lacrosse at Hofstra, objected to the settlement because it did not address her particular circumstances. NCAA lacrosse rules prohibit women from wearing protective headgear, even though they are still at risk of concussion from being struck by equipment. Greiber and other female lacrosse players say the NCAA prevented them from wearing such safety gear and as such failed to protect them. According to an ESPN report, the Greiber group argues, “the NCAA has strikingly failed to protect women lacrosse players and has discriminated against them.”
Greiber suffered two severe concussions, once in a lacrosse game and once in practice, and still suffers from concussion symptoms. The NCAA tried to have Greiber’s lawsuit dismissed but New York Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Brown denied the motion, finding that the NCAA owed Greiber a reasonable duty of care.