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Former Football Player Discusses Impact of Collegiate Career and NCAA Concussion Lawsuit

By: Allan M. Siegel

We’ve written a lot on brain injuries and high-profile cases involving sports-related concussions and their impact on athletes. This includes the pending concussion lawsuit against the NCAA filed by more than 100 former players who claim they now suffer with lasting consequences as a result of playing college football, and allege the organization failed to protect them from long-term risks associated with head injuries. While we may discuss these cases in terms of the law and the legal issues they introduce, we never forget that the individuals who bring these claims are real people whose lives, families, and futures have been profoundly affected by their athletic careers.

In a recent article from The Washington Post, those struggles are profiled in a featured story about Les Williams, a former defensive end who played at Alabama (one of collegiate football’s leading powerhouse teams) in the early 2000s. After Williams fell short of reaching his dreams of playing in the NFL, the lingering consequences of his time playing football have made his assimilation into a more humble working class life all the more difficult – and those struggles have been the reason he and many others like him have joined the lawsuit against the NCAA.

The Lasting Impact of Head Injuries

In the article, Williams credits many of his daily struggles to his collegiate football career and his serious and repeated head injuries. These include constant headaches, mood and behavioral changes, depression, angry outbursts, and even suicidal thoughts, all of which have impacted his ability to work, his marriage, and his interpersonal relationships with friends, coworkers, and others. He said the culture of toughness and lack of information about concussions and safety protocol caused him and many others to stay quiet after suffering head injuries and to simply “walk it off.”

Williams’ struggles are the very same suffered by numerous former college football players, and are believed to be symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a serious neurological disorder that has been linked to repeat concussions. One study from Boston University identified CTE in roughly 90% of former college players (and an alarming 99% of NFL veterans). Statistics like these, and the struggles Williams has come to endure, speak volumes about the risks of playing football, as well as the need to protect the futures of vulnerable student athletes.

NCAA Concussion Lawsuit

One way these protections may come to fruition is through the first large group of concussion related lawsuits pending against the NCAA. Along with Williams, more than 100 former college football players in the consolidated class action lawsuit are suing the NCAA for its failures in protecting student athletes, specifically by failing to educate them about concussions and protect them from risks associated with repeat head injuries. A similar case involving the death of former University of Texas linebacker Greg Ploetz, who was diagnosed post-mortem with CTE, is adding additional pressure and scrutiny on the NCAA.

Those players are not only seeking compensation for their damages, but also important changes and reform in how the organization addresses concussions and how it treats current, past, and future players who suffer brain injuries and various neurological conditions as a result. While similar to the infamous NFL concussion lawsuit, the NCAA case takes on a unique slant because the players who claim the organization failed to protect them aren’t compensated financially like professionals, and like Williams may never go on to play professionally. This, many believe, is all the more reason for the NCAA to ensure they protect athletes’ futures.

Support for Brain Injury Victims

Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. is committed to supporting brain injury initiatives and awareness efforts that help victims and families struggling with profound setbacks, and to protecting others from suffering similar fates. In addition to our role in organizations like the Brain Injury Association of Metropolitan Washington, DC and our support of legislation like the DC Youth Athletic Concussion Protection Act drafted by our own Partner Joseph Cammarata, our firm is also available to help brain injury victims understand their legal rights and the personal injury claim process. If you wish to discuss a case, contact us for a free consultation.