SBD/July 30, 2014/Colleges

Plaintiffs' Lawyer Criticizes NCAA's Concussion Settlement For Lacking Compensation

Huma argued the settlement has "not a penny in it for the players"
The NCAA yesterday reached a preliminary settlement in a class-action head-injury lawsuit, the "latest attempt by the NCAA to address concerns over athletes' rights," according to Ben Strauss of the N.Y. TIMES. The settlement brings "a significant change in the care and safety of all current and former college athletes," including a $70M medical monitory fund. It "still requires the approval" of Judge John Lee. Attorney Jay Edelson, who represents one of the plaintiffs, "criticized the agreement and said he would urge the judge to reject the settlement." Edelson said that the preliminary agreement is "terrible" and added that he "conveyed his objections to Lee." Edelson: "It totally loses sight of the purpose of the case, which was to compensate people who were badly injured by concussions. It's a great deal for the NCAA, but very scary for the class." The NFL’s agreement, which is pending approval, seeks to "create a fund worth several hundred million dollars to assist former players with treatment for the effects from their brain injuries." The NCAA’s settlement "covers only diagnostic medical expenses." College Athletes Players Association President Ramogi Huma said, "There’s not a penny in it for the players." Under the settlement, the NCAA also would "prevent athletes who have sustained a concussion from returning to a game or practice that day." Trained medical personnel "would be required at all contact sports events like football, lacrosse, basketball, soccer and wrestling." NCAA Chief Medical Officer Brian Hainline said, "This agreement’s proactive measures will ensure student-athletes have access to high-quality medical care by physicians with experience in the diagnosis, treatment and management of concussions." Huma "countered that many of the guidelines were subject to the NCAA’s rule-making process" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/30).

EASY WAY OUT? Co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs Joe Siprut said, "I think it's a great resolution to an epidemic." He added, "I think that we're getting essentially everything that we could have gotten if we had gone all the way." USA TODAY's Rachel Axon noted Chicago-based Siprut PC "first filed a lawsuit in Sept. 2011 on behalf of Adrian Arrington, a former Eastern Illinois football player who suffers from headaches, seizures, depression and other effects of at least five documented concussions." Siprut said that the medical monitoring procedures would "give plaintiffs the basis on which to build individual personal injury claims." He added, "There wasn't really a good way to deal with that on a class basis, so the best we could do was create a platform for people to be able to make those claims individually" (USATODAY.com, 7/29). But in Chicago, Rick Telander writes if the NFL gave up more than $750M to its "brain-damaged players, why is the NCAA getting off so lightly?" Especially because the agreement "covers all sports, male and female." Siprut said, "It's as much as we could have gotten at trial for class action" (SUNTIMES.com, 7/30).

HOW IT'S PLAYING: CBS' Mark Strassmann said, "The NCAA admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement. ... Critics point out that this settlement does not require the NCAA to pay any medical expenses and a federal judge still has to approve of this settlement and he may do that in September" ("Evening News," CBS, 7/29). PBS' Gwen Ifill said the settlement will bring "some big changes in the way college sports plans to deal with head injuries." Ifill added, "Unlike the NFL settlement, this agreement does not pay for medical expenses." USA Today's Axon noted the new protocols about head injuries are only "guidelines and the settlement says the NCAA will present this to the Executive Committee to follow through the normal process but that means the schools must approve these as rules and right that's not there. That's one of the issues that people are having with the settlement" ("NewsHour," PBS, 7/29).

SLOW & STEADY WINS THE RACE: In Chicago, David Haugh writes the proposed settlement "isn't perfect but represents progress, the latest positive sign from a more responsive NCAA in 2014." Coincidentally or not, since January, when former Northwestern QB Kain Colter "pushed for the unionization of college players, the rights of student-athletes gradually have expanded." A CAPA spokesperson "criticized Tuesday's announcement because it didn't result in any money paid to student-athletes, but such bottom-line mentalities ignore the strides that have been made recently" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 7/30).
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