National Collegiate Athletic Association targeted for legal action on the issue of concussions amongst student athletes

There was an interesting article in the New York Times this week highlighting a recent class action lawsuit aimed at the NCAA over alleged negligence in relation to prevention and treatment of brain injuries in athletes.

The action represents the first attempt to target the NCAA rather than individual colleges or schools, as pointed out by Nikki Wilson on the Collegiate and Professional Sports Law Blog. Four plaintiffs, three with a history of participation in College football and one who played soccer, have filed lawsuits alleging a ‘long-established pattern of negligence and inaction with respect to concussions and concussion-related maladies sustained by (the NCAA’s) student athletes.’

There are a wide range of claims made, including allegations that the NCAA has failed to implement :

– A support system for players unable to continue to play or lead a normal life after sustaining concussions

– Legislation addressing treatment and eligibility of players who have sustained multiple concussions

– Guidelines for screening and detection of head injuries

– Return-to-play guidelines for players who have sustained concussions

– Effective ways of addressing or correcting coaching of tackling methods that cause head injuries

One plaintiff, Adrian Arrington, claims to have suffered ‘numerous and repeated concussions’ during his playing time at Eastern Illinois and now is alleged to suffer from memory loss, depression, and near-daily migraines as a result. The lawsuit claims that the NCAA ‘..has failed its student-athletes choosing instead to sacrifice them on an altar of money and profits.’

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Donald Remy, the NCAA General Counsel and Vice President for legal affairs, has called the lawsuit ‘wholly without merit.’

The organisation responded by stating that ‘..the NCAA has been concerned about the safety of all of its student-athletes, including those playing football, throughout its history,’ and claimed that ‘..we have specifically addressed the issue of head injuries through a combination of playing rules, equipment requirements, and medical best practices.’

The NCAA and the CDC have collaborated to create educational resources for coaches, student-athletes, medical staff and college sports supporters. The NCAA Sports Medicine Handbook has 4 pages on concussions including information on symptoms, and has a revised management plan for all athletes with concussion.

The outcome of the legal actions will no doubt be watched closely by all former college athletes who believe that they may be suffering from ongoing symptoms as a result of repeated concussions during play.

For a further discussion on the lawsuit issues, readers can listen to the EDUsports podcast on the subject.

In the meantime, CJSM would like to hear your thoughts.

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About Chris Hughes
Associate Editor, Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine

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