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Blind side to concussions: NFL’s latest legal blows give feeble push to NCAA
Question of the Day
What happens if an institution’s plan isn’t followed?
“It’s like any other rule,” NCAA spokesman Christopher Radford said. “You know how thick the manual is. We don’t send our enforcement division out randomly cross-checking rules. But if there is a situation where it comes up where it is relevant that could potentially go into the enforcement process like any other rule. Potentially.”
To Mr. Klossner, progress looks like moving kickoffs up 5 yards to the 35-yard line before last season. He points to previous rule changes to eliminate spearing and protect defenseless players. A voluntary reporting system to track injuries shows concussions have leveled off since 2005. There’s also last year’s $400,000 donation to the National Sport Concussion Outcomes Study Consortium, which will study 1,000 college athletes. And Mr. Emmert hired Dr. Brian Hainline, a neurologist who worked for the United States Tennis Association, as the NCAA’s first chief medical officer.
Dr. Hainline, who didn’t return a request for comment, started last month. He will head the NCAA’s newly created Sports Science Institute.
“There are no shortcuts or definitive answers yet. For us, that’s the real challenge,” Mr. Radford said. “We’re trying our best to keep up.”
The lawsuit, filed in 2011, disagrees. A former football player at Eastern Illinois University named Adrian Arrington “who suffered numerous and repeated concussions” is the lead plaintiff. He is joined by former University of Central Arkansas football player Derek Owens and Angela Palacios, who played soccer at Ouachita Baptist University.
The 19-page lawsuit details five concussions Mr. Arrington suffered at the university that led to memory loss, seizures, depression and migraines. He quit the football team and dropped classes. In addition to damages, the lawsuit seeks establishment of a trust fund to pay for medical monitoring of all past, present and future NCAA football players and stricter organizationwide return-to-play guidelines.
The Chicago-based lead attorney, Joe Siprut, wonders why the case hasn’t garnered the same attention as the NFL litigation that has been consolidated in federal court in Pennsylvania.
“It took [Mr. Arrington] years and years just to try and be able to finish school. He needs help,” Mr. Siprut said. “He’s the poster boy for this whole problem. He gave everything on the field. But they chewed him up and spit him out.”
One legal analyst familiar with the case sees a greater possibility for it to move forward compared with the NFL litigation.
“I believe in time all of this is going to change,” said Marc Edelman, a sports law specialist and professor at Barry University School of Law. “The case against the NCAA, given the organization’s unique position created to protect student athletes from head injuries, is going to make the case against the NCAA far stronger than the case against the NFL.”
Paul Anderson, a lawyer who tracks concussion issues at NFLConcussionLitigation.com, termed the NCAA a “concussion plantation” where players risk lifelong health problems in exchange for education and the slim chance of an NFL career. But he said he doesn’t think going to court is the most effective way to address the issue at the collegiate level.
“It seems like the biggest claim they have is that the NCAA, at best, drug its feet,” Mr. Anderson said. “The NCAA can say, ‘We weren’t the only ones.’”
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