NCAA Head Injury Concussion Litigation
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was established in 1906 and serves as the governing body regarding athletics for more than 1,300 colleges, universities, conferences, and organizations. The association’s mission is to “emphasize student-athlete safety” and NCAA claims the experience will enrich student-athletes through safe and reasonable standards. However, the stark truth is many student-athletes suffer debilitating injuries that lead to long-term medical issues. Football concussions are the biggest focus and many questions have been raised about how the NCAA deals with head injuries.
Lack of Education
Football players have long been viewed as indestructible and tough. If a coach asked a player if he had “his bell rung” during a play, the question was not one of medical concern as much as ensuring the player could go back on the field. Having “your bell rung” is not to be taken lightly, and too often results in permanent consequences. Many times a concussion goes undiagnosed. Multiple concussions can cause long-term medical issues such as memory loss, seizures, depression, and near-daily migraines.
Until 2012, the NCAA had no concussion protocol and the rules currently in place are mostly general suggestions. There were no plans on how to treat, monitor and suspend play for a player who may have suffered a concussion. The association and universities have a moral duty to act en loco parentis; parents send their student-athlete children to college assuming they will be safe and unharmed. These are young adults with still developing brains and the assumption is they will not suffer long-term cognitive damage.
This lack of protocol was not due to lack of knowledge of long-term brain damage from multiple concussions; it was to avoid liability. By not crafting a protocol and instead attempting to delegate responsibility to the individual schools, the NCAA has attempted to sidestep liability and responsibility. While many former players agree and understand football can be a violent sport, the full extent of the damage was unknown until recently. Education of collegiate players is desired to allow them to understand the effects and make the decision to seek medical attention even if they are asked to return to the game.
Brain trauma can cause many symptoms in different individuals. Some players may develop and display symptoms from a few acute concussions that manifest differently in a player with only one documented concussion. There is no exact science to brain trauma. Below are conditions reported in players with brain trauma:
- Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)
- Loss of Memory
- Chronic Brain Injury
- Impulse Control Problems
- Neurological Disorder
- Suicidal Thoughts
- Sleep Problems
- Neck or Cervical Spine Arthritis
- Bipolar Disorder
- “Punch Drunk”
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Adjustment Disorder
- Personality Disorder
- Dysthymic Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Social Phobia
- Intermittent Explosive Disorder
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive degenerative disease associated with multiple concussions and other forms of head injury. It is most commonly associated with individuals who have played contact sports or had combat injuries during their military service.
CTE can only be positively diagnosed postmortem. Not all experts agree on how little or much head trauma can cause CTE or the mechanism of injury. More than 30 brains of former NFL players have been studied and almost all displayed signs of CTE. The NFL has dealt with rash suicides of former players in recent years, and many whose brains were studied showed signs of CTE. The youngest player diagnosed with CTE was a 17-year-old player who died after a high school football game.
Responsibility to Safety
The NCAA presents itself as a governing body of student-athletes to protect them and advance their goals. Meals are controlled, the interaction between recruits and university are limited, and the organization monitors players who may be receiving payment for autographs, all in the name of protection for the student-athlete. Yet, the organization remains silent on the issue of player safety.
For 2012-13, the most recent year for which audited numbers are available, NCAA revenue was $912.8 million, most of which came from the rights agreement with Turner/CBS Sports. The only money put towards a brain injury program similar to the NFL’s was a $400,000 donation to research brain trauma. That amount is less than half of the salary of a bowl game CEO.
The NFL has agreed to pay $765 million to fund medical exams, concussion-related compensation, medical research for retired NFL players and their families, and litigation expenses. The NFL has set up protocols for concussions and suspected concussions while slashing practice time, all to prevent head injuries. The NCAA’s silence now means collegiate players are taking more hits than their professional counterparts.
If you or a loved one have experienced brain trauma as a result of a head injury while playing for a NCAA regulated team, please contact the attorneys at Raizner Slania. The NCAA has an obligation to protect student-athletes, not to be a silent party to their injuries.