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Episode 76: NCAA Lawsuit - This is CRAZY

This is crazy. 

On trial in California is a lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) charging them with negligence in the death of former USC linebacker Matthew Gee, who played between 1988 and 1992-92.

Gee died in 2018 — and was subsequently diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE),  a degenerative brain condition that results from repetitive head trauma.

His wife, Alana Gee is alleging wrongful death and negligence, saying the NCAA failed to educate Matthew Gee on the dangers of concussions — of which it was well aware — and failed to protect Gee from them.

A jury has never ruled on whether the NCAA is liable for a negligent concussion protocol; whether it failed to protect athletes from concussions, traumatic brain injuries, lifelong illness, and even death.

The NCAA has faced a handful of lawsuits in the past decade from athletes who endured long-term injuries stemming from concussions, but the cases have all been dismissed or settled.

This case may change the way concussions are managed in in all sports and the responsibility of teams and leagues to provide proper education, monitoring, and protection to players.

So what’s crazy?

The testimony under oath by a former NCAA medical committee member who is UCLA’s football team physician.  Under oath, he testified last week that warning players about concussions and the dangers associated with concussions would unnecessarily worry them. 

Let’s put aside  for a moment that this physician who is a family physician by training and not a board certified neurologist served as a member of the NCAA’s medical committee charged with reviewing whether the NCAA should create new rules for determining when college athletes should return to play.  The committee allegedly reviewed the medical literature and came to the questionable conclusion in the 1980’s that there was no need for the NCAA to create rules for returned to play because the science of concussions lacked good scientific evidence.

Crazy?  Yes.

But wait, there is more craziness

This supposed expert then testified that he believed college football players do not need warnings about concussions and their potential long term risks because it is difficult to determine when a concussion takes place and the symptoms make take a period of time to develop. 

According to this witness warning players about concussion risks may needlessly worry players.  He doesn’t believe warnings should be given to teenagers and doesn’t believe this is the standard of care.

And yes, even more craziness

This witness charged with the health and safety of players then told the jury that serious concussions are rare and compared warning players about their risks to warning someone about to get in a car they might die in a car crash.

And this witness was not the only one doing crazy:

Another NCAA official, this one who is the chief medical officer for the NCAA testified that the claim of a connection between repetitive head trauma and CTE is just speculation.  This guy doesn’t believe that repetitive head trauma can be a cause of CTE.

And the lawyers representing the NCAA, they also are doing crazy, claiming that the NCAA only is responsible for the scheduling of athletic competitions and is not responsible for the health and safety of players.  They claim that the  NCAA has no obligation to warn players of the dangers of concussions.  

So let’s get this straight because I do not do crazy:

  • A concussion is a brain injury
  • Over 56 percent of individuals according to the most recent studies suffer long term consequences because of a concussion.
  • A concussion and its sequela can lead to physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral problems that can last a lifetime.
  • Permitting a player to return to play before a concussion is healed increases the risk of another concussion and exposes them to a life-threatening condition known as second impact syndrome. 
  • Repetitive head trauma has been confirmed to be a cause of CTE by both the Centers for Disease Control and the United States, National institute of Health.
  • And the NCAA is more than a scheduling group.  They are responsible for rule making.  They engage and sponsor scientific study groups.  They publish and distribute extensive medical safety and medical information to colleges. 

Audio version

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Brain Injury Insider

michael kaplen
Brain Injury Insider is a weekly video update by The Brain Injury Law Firm ®. We cover the latest news and developments in traumatic brain injury, concussion, and brain injury law.