Los Angeles (AP) —
A lawsuit alleging that the NCAA failed to protect a former University of Southern California football player from repeated concussions is nearing trial in a Los Angeles court, with a jury on Thursday in what could be a landmark case.
The former USC linebacker suffered permanent brain damage caused by numerous blows to the head while playing for the 1990 Rose Bowl winning team, according to a lawsuit filed by Matthew Gee’s widow in 2018. died in the year
Of hundreds of wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits filed against the NCAA by college football players over the past decade, Gee’s was only the second to go to trial and likely the first to reach a jury. there is.
The problem of concussions in sports, especially football, has been growing in recent years as more research has discovered the long-term effects of repeated head injuries, from headaches to depression and sometimes early-onset Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. has become the most important issue. disease.
“[The NCAA]have been ignorant of players like Matthew Gee and the public for years about an epidemic that is slowly killing college athletes,” Alana Gee’s lawsuit said. Long after they’ve played their last game, they’re left with a series of neurological conditions that can slowly strangle their brains.”
The NCAA, the governing body of collegiate athletics, was not responsible for Gee’s tragic death and blamed it on excessive drinking, drugs and other illnesses.
The NCAA attorney said, “Mr. Gee will help me deal with a traumatic childhood, bridge the loss of identity I felt after playing football, and numb the chronic and growing pain caused by many health issues. “I used alcohol and drugs for the sake of my health.” Court filing.
A 2018 Texas trial resulted in a swift settlement after several days of testimony by plaintiffs’ witnesses, the widow of Greg Proetz, who defended Texas in the late 1960s.
In 2016, the NCAA paid $70 million to monitor the medical condition of former college athletes, an additional $5 million for medical research, and up to $5,000 for individual athletes who report injuries to help prevent concussions. I have agreed to settle the class action lawsuit.
The NFL has been hit with similar lawsuits, which ultimately resulted in a settlement covering 20,000 retired players offering up to $4 million for deaths associated with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, also known as CTE. Agreed. injury.
Lawyers said they expect NFL payouts to exceed $1.4 billion over 65 years for six eligible conditions, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and dementia.
Gee, 49, was one of five linebackers on the Trojans team to die before turning 50 in 1989.
The defense has sought to exclude any testimony about Gee’s teammates, and the NCAA said there is no medical evidence that Gee suffered a concussion at USC.
However, two former teammates testified in depositions about the blows they routinely received during the days when they were told to hit them in the head.
USC fielder Mike Salmon, who transferred to the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills, vividly recalled Gee and other linebackers “going off” during hard-hitter practice.
“Matt hit like a truck,” Salmon said. You could tell…he wasn’t there.
“It was our job in the 80s to get the helmets in contact,” testified former nose tackle Gene Fleuge. “There was no question about it. It was your job to blow up the man in front of you.”
The NCAA, which mandated concussion protocols in schools in 2010, said it provided schools with “cutting-edge” information about known head injury risks when Gee played. The long-term effects were not well understood.
Gee’s lawsuit argues that the debilitating effects of concussion and other traumatic brain effects have been known for nearly a century, first from studies of “punch-drunk” boxers and later from findings in football and other contact sports. ing.
“The NCAA has known for decades of its detrimental effects on athletes. They ignored these facts and failed to enact meaningful ways to warn and/or protect athletes. The NCAA For us, the continued expansion and running of college football was too profitable to risk.”
After graduating in 1992, Gee was cut by the Los Angeles Raiders in training camp. He married his college sweetheart, Alana, and had three children as he ran his own insurance company in Southern California. For twenty years he lived a “relatively normal” life.
But around 2013, that started to change when he started to lose control of his emotions. he drank heavily. He told doctors that days would go by without him being able to remember what happened.
When he died on New Year’s Eve in 2018, the preliminary cause of death was listed as a combination of the toxic effects of alcohol and cocaine and other serious conditions of cardiovascular disease, cirrhosis and obesity.
Joseph Lowe, a Los Angeles attorney for a traumatic brain injury client who wasn’t involved in the case, said drug and alcohol abuse can reduce symptoms of brain injury when sufferers try to self-medicate, especially as they get worse. may become
Blaming Gee’s death for substance abuse will not protect the NCAA from evidence showing CTE not caused by drugs or alcohol, Low said.
“Discussions about drugs and alcohol aren’t going to get it all done for them. It’s a distraction,” Law said.