Former college football player’s widow says her husband suffered head trauma and is seeking $55 million in damages from the NCAA – Fortune | Team Cansler

Lawyers asked a jury Monday to award the widow of a former USC soccer player $55 million in a landmark case that accused the NCAA of failing to protect him from repeated head injuries that led to his death.

Matthew Gee, a hard-hitting linebacker who was on the 1990 Rose Bowl-winning squad, suffered countless punches that caused permanent brain damage and led to cocaine and alcohol abuse that eventually killed him at age 49, his attorneys said in the closing arguments. His widow Alana Gee was in the courtroom on Monday.

In the first case of its kind to go before a jury, attorneys told the Los Angeles Superior Court jury that the NCAA, the governing body for collegiate athletics in the United States, had spoken about the effects of head injuries in sports since the 1930s knew but failed for decades to educate players about the risks or enact rules to protect players.

“You can’t bring Matt back, but you can say what the NCAA did to him was wrong,” attorney Bill Horton said. “Put that on the NCAA’s radar. … That’s the only way they’ll ever listen.”

An NCAA attorney said Gee suffered sudden cardiac death caused by longstanding high blood pressure and acute cocaine poisoning. He discussed a number of Gee’s other serious health issues, which he said were unrelated to football.

“The NCAA had nothing to do with what tragically killed Mr. Gee,” attorney Will Stute said.

The issue of concussions in sport, and football in particular, has been a focus in recent years as research has uncovered more about the long-term effects of repeated head injuries on problems ranging from headaches to depression and sometimes early onset Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease.

The month-long lawsuit is one of hundreds of wrongful death and assault lawsuits filed by college football players against the NCAA over the past decade.

But Gees is only the second case to go to court with claims that being hit to the head led to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease. A 2018 case in Texas was settled days after the trial began.

Gee was one of five linebackers in the 1989 Trojans roster to die before the age of 50. Like teammate and NFL star Junior Seau, who took his own life in 2012, Gee’s brain was posthumously examined at Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center and diagnosed with CTE.

CTE is associated with memory loss, depression and progressive dementia. It can only be diagnosed after death.

According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Boston University found CTE in the brains of 110 of 111 former NFL players and 48 of 53 former college players who died.

Hall of Famers diagnosed after death include Ken Stabler and Mike Webster.

In his senior year, Gee was a team captain and led USC in tackles, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries.

Gee married his college sweetheart, Alana, after he graduated in 1992, and they lived a normal life for 20 years. They raised three children while he ran a successful insurance company in Southern California.

But things changed around 2013, when he began to lose control of his emotions, according to the lawsuit. He became angry, confused and depressed. He drank heavily. He told a doctor he had forgotten whole days.

Gee’s attorneys said CTE, which occurs in athletes and military veterans who have sustained repeated brain injuries, was an indirect cause of death, as head trauma has been shown to promote substance abuse.

Stute said the wrongful death case relates to what caused Gee’s death and not whether CTE exists, which he says is still a hypothesis.

After years of denial, the NFL acknowledged in 2016 that BU’s research showed a connection between football and CTE. The league agreed to resolve head injury cases in 20,000 retired players and provide up to $4 million for one death with CTE. Age-65 payouts for six qualifying terms are expected to exceed $1.4 billion.

In 2016, the NCAA agreed to settle a concussion class-action lawsuit, paying $70 million for health monitoring of former college athletes, $5 million for medical research, and payments of up to $5,000 to individuals Players who claimed injuries.

Gee has never reported having a concussion, and he said in an application to play for the Raiders after he graduated that he was never knocked unconscious, Stute said.

He said the NCAA was empowered to defend itself against allegations it was unaware of at the time, noting that CTE was not discovered until 2005. He said nothing the NCAA could have done would have kept Gee alive today.

“You can’t blame the NCAA 40 years later for something that nobody has ever reported on,” Stute said. “The plaintiffs want you on a time travel machine. We don’t have any… in the NCAA. That’s not fair.”

A former NFL official who reviewed all available tapes of Gee’s USC games said he was safely attacked without using his head and there was no evidence of head injuries, Stute said.

Horton countered that at the time Gee played, the NCAA did not communicate about the medical risks of repeated head injuries, did not restrict players from returning to the field after injuries, and did not limit the number of drills despite recommendations to do so, Horton said.

As he showed photos of Gee at his wedding, holding his infant daughter in a pink tutu, Horton choked and remarked that Tuesday would have been Gee’s birthday.

“Judgment…so he didn’t die in vain,” Horton said. “So any 18-year-old kid who plays soccer knows the dangers of the game they’re playing.”

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