This week, the National Collegiate Athletic Association settled a class-action head injury lawsuit by establishing a $70 million fund to diagnose former and current college athletes to determine if they have traumatic brain injury from playing soccer, hockey, football, or other contact sports.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA, has also agreed to instate a return-to-play policy which will determine the proper procedure for how players are treated after suffering head blows in a game, according to a filing in U.S. District Court in Chicago. The NCAA has received criticism from some for giving too much discretion to individual schools about when athletes can return to play.
The settlement was reached after almost a year of negotiations. Rather than setting aside money to compensate players who have suffered traumatic brain injury, the settlement allows athletes to sue individually for damages, and the NCAA-funded testing gauges the severity of neurological injuries which could assist in the individual lawsuits. The terms of the settlement also applied to players in basketball, wrestling, field hockey, and lacrosse.
To qualify for the NCAA-funded medical examinations, an athlete only has to have played a designated sport in the past or currently. There is no cut off date to qualify, as long as the athlete played a sport at one of the more than 1,000 NCAA member schools. This means that any athlete who played decades ago or today could potentially follow up with damage claims.
10 different lawsuits, from Georgia, South Carolina, Minnesota, and Missouri were consolidated into one case in Chicago, for the convenience of the NCAA. The suits identified dozens of named athletes as having received brain trauma.
The lead plaintiff was from the first lawsuit was filed in Chicago in 2011. Adrian Arrington, former safety at Eastern Illinois, claimed he suffered five concussions while playing, with some so severe he stated he couldn’t recognize his parents afterward. Filings also stated he had subsequent headaches, memory loss, seizures, and depression, all of which made it difficult for him to work or care for his children.
Another plaintiff, wide receiver Derek K. Owens from Central Arkansas, said that after several concussions, he could no longer retain information he had just studied. The symptoms caused him to drop out of school in 2011. “I feel like a 22-year-old with Alzheimer’s,” he said.
The settlement terms also dictate that all athletes will take baseline neurological tests at the beginning of each year to help doctors determine the extent of any head injury received during the season, and all testing will be reviewed by a new, independent Medical Science Committee. Coaches and athletes will also receive mandatory concussion education.
The NCAA denies any wrongdoing or negligence regarding the dangers of concussions. To refute these clams, the NCAA cited recent changes in medical and equipment practices and playing rules, specifically one change prohibiting football players from targeting an opponent’s head or neck. The NCAA also announced in May of this year a three- year, $30 million concussion study, co-funded by the U.S. Defense Department. The study will gather data from about 7,200 athletes from 12 colleges, up to 37,000 athletes at 30 colleges. The goal of the study is to gain better understanding of concussions and to develop more effective prevention practices.