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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

“NCAA concussion case settles three days into trial” – Tea Leaves

The NCAA concussion trial ended in a settlement, as described in a June 15, 2018 article at the Washington Post. Tea leaf readers will have a field day. For me, two topics were more interesting to read in a LAW360 article of June 14, 2018. One was “the profits over safety theme,” which of course usually involves businesses overtly intent on making money:

“During the second day of the trial, plaintiff Debra Hardin-Ploetz called to the stand Ellen Staurowsky of Drexel University’s Center for Sport Management to bolster her allegations that the NCAA knew about the long-term consequences of head trauma in football ….  Staurowsky testified about her expertise regarding college athletics, including her roles as the field hockey and lacrosse coach at Oberlin College in 1978 and director of athletics at William Smith College in 1987 as well as her education doctorate in sport management.  Staurowsky told the jury that she had extensively reviewed the history of the NCAA and that the organization had consistently been “reactive” with athlete safety, imposing new rules and regulations only when forced to by public outcry, and prioritizing its finances over athletes’ safety. Walter Byers, the first executive director of the NCAA, was even quoted as saying the goal of the organization was to make as much money as it could, Staurowsky said.  Staurowsky told the jury that a 1929 report by the Carnegie Foundation, which included “exhaustive” reporting on campus sports, including a study on concussions in football players, came to the same conclusion.  They found out quite clearly the interest of the business of college sport was being put ahead of the safety of the athletes,” she said.  Staurowsky said that even Byers’ creation of the concept of the “student-athlete” in the 1950s was motivated by finances, as the NCAA sought to avoid paying out worker’s compensation benefits to injured athletes. “The term ‘student-athlete’ was created to create a deception, to obscure the fact that what had actually been created was a pay-to-play system … and that created an illusion that college athletes were different from workers,” she said.

The second interesting part was the appeal to the jury to send a message:

“Egdorf impressed upon the jury the impact their verdict could have, saying it was the first time a jury has been asked to consider what the NCAA purportedly knew about the head trauma associated with football and what it knew about CTE, the disease that allegedly gave Ploetz “10 years of suffering and decline” before his death in 2015.”

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