A jury finds the NCAA not responsible for the death of a college football player – NPR | Team Cansler

In this March 18, 2015 file photo, an NCAA logo is displayed on center court as work continues at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh for second and third round games of NCAA collegiate basketball.

Keith Srakocic/AP

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Keith Srakocic/AP

In this March 18, 2015 file photo, an NCAA logo is displayed on center court as work continues at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh for second and third round games of NCAA collegiate basketball.

Keith Srakocic/AP

LOS ANGELES — In a ruling that could affect myriad claims by athletes suing sports organizations over head injuries, a Los Angeles jury on Tuesday dismissed a $55 million lawsuit filed by the widow of a former USC soccer player, she said , the NCAA failed to protect him from repeated head injuries that led to his death.

Matthew Gee, a linebacker on the 1990 Rose Bowl-winning squad, suffered an estimated 6,000 hits as a collegiate athlete, his widow’s attorneys said. They claimed these effects caused permanent brain damage and led to cocaine and alcohol abuse, which eventually killed him at the age of 49.

The NCAA, the governing body of US collegiate sports, said it was unrelated to Gee’s death, which was a case of sudden cardiac arrest caused by untreated high blood pressure and acute cocaine toxicity. An NCAA attorney said Gee suffered from many other health conditions unrelated to football, such as cirrhosis of the liver, which eventually killed him.

Hundreds of wrongful death and assault lawsuits have been filed against the NCAA by college football players over the past decade, but Gee’s was the first to reach a jury. The lawsuit alleged that blows to the head led to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disorder known by the acronym CTE.

Judge Terry Green told the Los Angeles Superior Court jury they “made history” in the first case of its kind.

The result could serve as a warning to attorneys preparing to bring similar cases to court, said Dan Lust, a sports law attorney and professor at New York Law School. Before the trial, he had said that a Gee win could have opened the floodgates against the NCAA. Now the NCAA has more leverage in future cases.

“Any plaintiff’s attorney will think twice before he puts all the chips on the table and shoves them in the middle and says, ‘We’re going to take our case to court and see what happens,'” Lust said. “They will be much less inclined to take that risk from a cost-benefit perspective.”

Alana Gee choked as the verdict was read and then had tears in her eyes. She told one of her attorneys that she did not understand how the jury came to this decision, but personally thanked the seven women and five men as they exited the courtroom. She declined to comment afterwards.

“We immediately feel a deep sympathy for the Gee family,” said Will Stute, the NCAA attorney, afterwards. “But we believe this ruling is an endorsement of the position we have taken in all of these cases, which is that science and medicine have not supported causality in Matthew Gee’s circumstances.”

Stute had argued that medical evidence is not clear on what causes CTE and the implications of this disease.

Lawyers for Gee said CTE, which occurs in athletes and military veterans who suffer repeat brain injuries, is an indirect cause of death because head trauma has been shown to promote drug abuse.

Alana Gee had testified that the college sweethearts had spent 20 good years in marriage before her husband’s mental health began to decline and he became angry, depressed and impulsive and began to overeat and abuse drugs and alcohol.

The NCAA said the case depended on what it knew at the time Gee played from 1988 to 1992 and not CTE, which was first discovered in the brain of a deceased NFL player in 2005.

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

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

Attorneys for Gee’s family said there was no doubt Matt Gee suffered from concussions and countless sub-concussive blows.

Mike Salmon, a teammate who later played in the NFL, testified that Gee, who was team captain his senior year, was once so dazed from a hit that he couldn’t call the next game.

Gee was one of five linebackers on the 1989 Trojans team to die before the age of 50. All showed signs of mental deterioration related to head trauma.

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.

The jury was not allowed to hear testimony about Gee’s deceased teammates.

Alana Gee’s attorneys had argued that the NCAA, established in 1906 to keep athletes safe, had known about the effects of head injuries since the 1930s but failed to educate players, ban headfirst contact, or provide basic testing for concussion symptoms to perform.

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