A Los Angeles jury could be the first in the U.S. to decide whether the NCAA failed to protect college football players from repeated blows to the head that cause serious brain injuries.
The suit filed by Matthew Gee’s widow says the former USC linebacker died in 2018 from permanent brain damage caused by countless blows to the head he took while playing for the 1990 Rose Bowl winning team, whose roster also included NFL star Junior Seau.
Of the hundreds of wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits brought by college football players against the NCAA in the past decade, Gee’s is only the second to head toward trial and could be the first to reach a jury.
The issue of concussions in sports has been front and center in recent years as research has discovered more about long-term effects of repeated head trauma in problems ranging from headaches to depression and, sometimes, early Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease.
“For years (the NCAA) has kept players like Matthew Gee and the public in the dark about an epidemic that was slowly killing college athletes. Long after they played their last game, they are left with a series of neurological conditions that could slowly strangle their brains,” Alana Gee’s lawsuit said.
The NCAA (the governing body of college athletics), said it wasn’t responsible for Gee’s tragic death, which it blamed on heavy drinking, drugs and other ailments.
A 2018 Texas trial led to a swift settlement after several days of testimony by witnesses for the plaintiff, the widow of Greg Ploetz, who played defense for Texas in the late 1960s.
In 2016, the NCAA agreed to settle a class-action concussion lawsuit, paying $70 million to monitor the medical conditions of former college athletes, another $5 million toward medical research and payments up to $5,000 toward individual players claiming injuries.
The NFL has been hit with similar suits and eventually agreed to a settlement covering 20,000 retired players providing up to $4 million for a death involving chronic traumatic encephalopathy, also known as CTE, a degenerative brain disease found in athletes who suffered repetitive brain injuries.
Gee, 49, was one of five linebackers on the 1989 Trojans squad who died before turning 50. As with Seau, who killed himself in 2012, Gee’s brain was examined posthumously and found to have CTE.
Two ex-teammates testified at depositions about blows they routinely took in an era when they were told to hit with their heads.
Mike Salmon, who played defense at USC and went on to the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills, said he distinctly recalled Gee and other linebackers being “out of it” during hard-hitting practices.
“Matt hit like a truck,” Salmon said. “I saw him quite a bit coming back to the huddle. You could tell … he wasn’t all there.”
“It was our job to make helmet-to-helmet contact in the ’80s,” Gene Fruge, a former nose-tackle testified. “There was no question about it. That was your job, to explode the man in front of you.”
The NCAA, which required schools in 2010 to have a concussion protocol, said it gave them “state-of-the-art” information about head injury risks known at the time Gee played.
Gee’s lawsuit said the debilitating effects of concussions and other traumatic brain impacts have been known for about a century.
The lawsuit also stated the following:
- The NCAA knew of the harmful effects on athletes for decades, they ignored these facts and failed to institute any meaningful methods of warning and/or protecting the athletes. For the NCAA, the continued expansion and operation of college football was simply too profitable to put at risk.
- After graduating in 1992, Gee was cut by the Los Angeles Raiders in training camp. He married Alana, his college sweetheart, and they had three children as he ran his own insurance company in Southern California. For 20 years, he lived a “relatively normal” life.
- In 2013, he began to change when he started to lose control of his emotions; he became angry, confused and depressed; he drank heavily; he told a doctor days would go by without him being able to recall what happened.
- When he died on New Year’s Eve 2018, the preliminary cause of death was listed as the combined toxic effects of alcohol and cocaine with other significant conditions of cardiovascular disease, cirrhosis and obesity.
Have you or a loved one suffered from a traumatic head or brain injury? If so, don’t hesitate to contact The Gutierrez Law Firm by phone 323-999-3500 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org today.
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