Lawsuits pertaining to the effects of concussions on former college football players became a hot topic in May and June, making the situation seem like an epidemic with the season approaching.
The smorgasbord of lawsuits suggests that one lawyer, Jay Edelson of Chicago, defending the plaintiffs, hopes a mass hysteria can create more opportunities to receive compensation for his law firm and his clients.
In May and June, 10 lawsuits were filed against the NCAA and various major conference and schools by former football players who say they suffer from the effects of concussions. Only Edelson’s law firm – Edelson PC – is involved with the filing of each of these cases.
Reportedly as many as 50 lawsuits are expected to be filed by Edelson PC in the coming months.
NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy (pictured above) said in a statement in June that “these lawsuits, all filed by the same counsel using the exact same language, are mere copycat activity of the cases (Edelson) filed last month.”
Edelson’s law firm filed four cases in June after submitting six in May. The most notable is that of Ray Griffin, the brother of two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin of Ohio State. Ray Griffin is suing the NCAA and the Big Ten, not Ohio State, where he was a defensive back from 1974-77 before playing seven years in the NFL.
The lawsuits use similar language, noting the NCAA, conferences and schools “have kept their players and the public in the dark about an epidemic that was slowly killing their athletes” while noting that players suffered repeated concussions that “severely increased their risks of long-term brain injuries.”
For the record, in the last few years, the NCAA has developed strict guidelines on concussion protocol and the game is officiated much more stringently (suspensions from targeting calls, for example) with concussions in mind. The governing body released two years ago new guidelines that addressed contact at football practices, independent medical care for all athletes and best practices to diagnose and manage concussions.
The NCAA’s guidelines recommend schools make their concussion management plans publicly available, either through printed material or on their website. The eight-page guidelines about diagnosing and managing concussions includes best practices the NCAA says have been endorsed by 10 groups in the medical field, such as the American Academy of Neurology, the American College of Sports Medicine and the NCAA Concussion Task Force.
Athletes know now more than ever the concussion risks involved with playing football. The perils of the sport have actually been known for decades. What has evolved in recent years because of new NCAA guidelines is a more proactive approach by schools with their concussion protocol. For example, institutions have exhibited more detailed, prolonged tests before allowing a concussed player to return to the playing field.
The recent string of lawsuits come as a settlement in another concussion case against the NCAA is awaiting approval by a federal judge. Former Eastern Illinois football player Adrian Arrington in 2011 sued the NCAA over its handling of concussions and it resulted in a proposed settlement that provided no damages to be paid to players for injuries.
The proposal is awaiting final approval from an Illinois federal judge. It calls for the NCAA to create a $70 million fund for testing and monitoring former athletes for brain trauma and another $5 million for concussion research.
“Failing to achieve a bodily injury component to the Arrington case settlement, it appears that counsel is attempting to extract a bodily injury settlement through the filing of these new questionable class actions,” Remy said in a statement. “This strategy will not work. The NCAA does not believe that these complaints present legitimate legal arguments and expects that they can be disposed of early by the court.”
Two of Edelson’s clients – former Penn State players James Boyd (played 1997-2001) and Eric Ravotti (1990-94) – have already jumped ship from his onslaught of lawsuits. According to the Associated Press, Boyd and Ravotti wanted their names removed from the lawsuits because they felt they were misled about the nature of the cases by Edelson’s law firm.
Edelson’s attempt for compensation with the parade of class-action lawsuits may backfire and lose its steam if the Illinois federal judge rules in favor of the Arrington proposal. The NCAA, judging from the bold statements by Remy, is counting on that to happen.
Meanwhile, the pageantry of college football is just around the corner. The players know what they’re getting into. The coaches know of the safety guidelines they must uphold. The institutions’ medical staff knows of the concussion protocols. The refs realize what must be called to avoid players from suffering head trauma with illegal tackling.
Nobody is in the dark about concussions. Life goes on with football as we know it.