Les Williams a former Alabama football player is one of over 100 suing the NCAA over brain injuries.
Was the NCAA Aware of the Long-Term Health Risks Associated with Hits to the Head
According to an NCBI journal article, between 1.6 and 3.8 million concussions—a type of mild to moderate traumatic brain injury—occur in the United States each year as a result of sports and recreational activities. Many people fail to realize the serious nature of a “mild” concussion, which can lead to acute cognitive, emotional and physical symptoms. Further, repetitive concussions have been linked to the development of both chronic, traumatic encephalopathy and neurodegenerative disease. One of the activities which bring the very highest risk of concussion is American football. Nearly 80,000 college football players participated in organized college football leagues in 2012, with some studies reporting a higher rate of concussion among college football players as compared to high school football players.
What Happens Next?
In some cases, the symptoms of a concussion are not readily visible to the outside observer. And, because college athletes do not want to “let down” their team, may fear being cut from the team, or may not think the injury is serious, concussions are not always reported to a coach, athletic trainer or team physician. A recent lawsuit, filed by former Alabama defensive end, Les Williams, highlights the aftermath of a college football career which is now filled with constant headaches, fits of depression, occasional rages, and memory loss. Williams, who is now 37 years old, cannot stay employed due to the ongoing adverse symptoms related to the hits to the head he took when playing college football. In fact, when Williams watches college football on television, he visibly winces when he sees a player taking a hit to the head, saying “Nobody talks about what happens next.”
What “happened next” in Williams’ case is that after he played football for four years for Alabama, he began having constant headaches, soon finding it difficult to relate to co-workers, supervisors, even his own family. Williams experienced unexplained emotional outbursts, including rage at times. He was out of work, fearful about his future, and unsure about what he needed to do. Then Williams heard of a class-action lawsuit which included more than 100 former college athletes who were suing the NCAA, claiming the agency failed miserably to both educate and protect players from the risks associated with repeated hits to the head.
NCAA Settles Lawsuit Brought by Family of University of Texas Football Player
The NCAA has already come under fire for failing to properly compensate or protect their revenue-generating athletes and has settled one lawsuit, brought by the family of Greg Ploetz. Ploetz was a former University of Texas football player who sustained serious brain injuries while playing football—brain injuries which eventually led to his death. In fact, researchers found a degenerative brain disease, known as CTE, in Ploetz’s brain, during an autopsy. Similar findings were noted in the brain of twenty-one-year-old Tyler Hilinski, the Washington State quarterback who recently committed suicide.
NCAA Fails to Educate College Football Players Regarding the Risks of Hits to the Head
Unfortunately, CTE among former college football players receives very little attention, and, unlike NFL players, college football players are not paid to get hit, rather they play for the love of the sport—and in hopes of being drafted in the NFL. Williams was told by an assistant coach to “hit harder,” and still remembers what he calls “the hit.” Williams says “the hit” was so violent, he lost all vision in his left eye for at least 30 seconds, and his entire left side went numb. Williams did not tell his coaches or teammates because he did not want to lose his spot on the team. Williams says he and his teammates received no education on the risks of long-term brain damage after taking hits to their heads, and neither were they educated about potentially safer tackling techniques.
No Long-Term Health Care for NCAA Players
Because these young men were never told about the possible risks, many were left feeling alone—that something was wrong with them. The current lawsuit notes that the NCAA does not provide long-term health care for former athletes, despite the fact the agency is well-aware of the health risks associated with hits to the head. Despite the fact that the NCAA tells athletes at the start of their careers that they will be “taken care of,” dozens (perhaps even hundreds) of these athletes have essentially been “hung out to dry,” dealing with long-term injuries which impact every aspect of their lives and their future, with absolutely no help in dealing with the aftermath of brain injuries.
It is likely the NCAA will present both Statute of Limitations and Causation arguments when the lawsuits are heard. The agency will almost certainly claim that too much time has passed for most of the players, therefore the statutes of limitations have run, precluding many, if not most, of the lawsuits. Since the majority of the players may not have even reported their concussions, due to fear of losing their spot on the team, the NCAA is also likely to claim there is no causation—no evidence which definitively links the problems these former athletes are experiencing to the time they played football for the NCAA, or to concussions experienced while playing football. Lawyers for the former players will likely allege, the NCAA failed to protect these college athletes from life-altering injuries, by never providing information regarding the long-term effects of concussions to the players. In short, they will claim these young men were never allowed the opportunity to make informed decisions about their own futures.