The protection of college athletes isn’t the NCAA’s legal responsibility, the organization maintained in a court filing last week obtained by The Washington Times.
“The NCAA denies that it has a legal duty to protect student-athletes,” the document said, “but admits that it was ‘founded to protect young people from the dangerous and exploitative athletic practices of the time.’”
The 30-page filing in Montgomery County (Md.) Circuit Court came in response to a wrongful death lawsuit filed in August by the family of Frostburg State University football player Derek Sheely. He died in August 2011 after suffering a brain injury during preseason practice.
The NCAA is named in the lawsuit along with helmet manufacturer Schutt Sports and three Frostburg State staffers.
On the same page as the denial of any legal duty to protect athletes, the NCAA admitted that the motivation behind the organization’s establishment in 1906 involved such protection. The NCAA grew out of two White House conferences in 1905 following a spate of football-related deaths.
“The NCAA admits that a founding purpose was to protect student-athletes,” the document said.
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Two pages later, the NCAA restated the denial and attempted to shift responsibility to individual schools.
“The NCAA denies that it has a legal duty to protect student-athletes,” the document said, “but affirmatively states that under the NCAA Constitution each member institution is responsible for protecting the health of its student-athletes and that for decades it had provided appropriate information and guidance on concussions to its member institutions.”
The document goes on to describe the NCAA as an organization “committed to providing opportunities for student-athletes.”
The NCAA’s own website describes “part of its core mission” is to “provide student-athletes with a competitive environment that is safe and ensures fair play.”
One hundred ninety-five words added to the organization’s voluminous rule book in August 2010 mandate that schools have a concussion management plan on file. But internal NCAA emails and depositions have shown the provision isn’t enforced and no school has been investigated or punished for violating the rule.
Last month, Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) wrote NCAA president Mark Emmert seeking answers about the NCAA’s concussion policy, spurred by concern over the circumstances surrounding Sheely’s death.
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The NCAA has declined comment on the Sheely lawsuit other than to disagree with the lawsuit’s assertions and extend sympathies to the family.
Since September, former college football players have filed 10 class-action lawsuits against the NCAA over the handling of concussions. An 11th case, filed in 2011, is currently in mediation.