Two years to the day after Frostburg State University football player Derek Sheely sustained a fatal head injury during practice, his family filed a wrongful death lawsuit Thursday against the NCAA, coach Tom Rogish and several others.
Sheely collapsed following a preseason drill at the Division III school in western Maryland and died six days later on Aug. 28, 2011.
“Utter incompetence, egregious misconduct, false hope and a reckless disregard for player health and safety led to the tragic death of Derek Sheely,” the 63-page complaint obtained by The Washington Times said.
Also named in the lawsuit filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court are Frostburg running backs coach Jamie Schumacher, assistant athletic trainer Michael Sweitzer Jr. and helmet manufacturer Schutt Sports.
Sheely’s parents, Kenneth and Kristin, and sister, Keyton, live in Germantown. They’re all plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
“It is inconceivable to us how, with all the attention on concussions, there is still no unified enforcement to prevent dangerous drills, stop false safety claims or ensure proper medical attention to concussed athletes,” the family said in a statement released to The Times. “We are haunted by the knowledge that Derek’s death was preventable and we feel an obligation to share lessons that could prevent other children from suffering Derek’s fate.”
The complaint lays out a detailed series of events that led to the death it asserts was preventable.
A senior fullback and team captain who majored in history and political science, Sheely hoped to work for the Central Intelligence Agency one day. But four times in a three-day span that August, Sheely started bleeding “profusely” from his forehead after sustaining hits in full-contact exercises similar to Oklahoma drills where the fullback and linebacker collide at full speed. Two players were concussed during the drill earlier in the preseason.
The tempo wasn’t unusual; Frostburg’s first full day of practice in 2011 included four hours of contact.
“Preseason practices at Frostburg served more as a gladiatorial thrill for the coaches than learning sessions for the players, the lawsuit said. “Practice involved virtually unlimited, full-contact, helmet-to-helmet collisions.”
Each time Sheely’s forehead wound reopened, Sweitzer put on a bandage, allowed him to return to practice, the lawsuit claimed, and didn’t evaluate him for concussion or make certain his helmet fit properly.
During the drills, Schumacher allegedly encouraged players to “lead with your head” and use your “hat first” and cursed at them if they didn’t comply.
Earlier that month, a Schutt Sports representative told Sheely that the company’s DNA Pro Plus helmet the fullback wore “can prevent head injuries.” Sheely had been diagnosed with a concussion the previous season.