Wednesday, August 5, 2020
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Maryland settles lawsuit over sport concussions

The Maryland Board of Public Works approved a settlement amount of $50,000 earlier today, payable to the Derek Sheely Foundation, part of a total settlement in a lawsuit brought by the parents of a Frostburg State University football player who died of head injuries suffered on the practice field, the Baltimore Sun reports.

The Derek Sheely Foundation will work to reduce brain injuries suffered by athletes.

Derek Sheely was 22 and a fullback on Frostburg’s Division III football team. He collapsed during preseason drills in 2011 and died six days later, having never regained consciousness. The suit claimed he died as a result of “second impact syndrome,” injuries received from a blow to the head before a previous concussion has had a chance to heal.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association and the manufacturer and distributor of the helmet used were also named as defendants in the lawsuit, as were three former Frostburg employees, who, witnesses were prepared to testify, forced players to engage in hard helmet-to-helmet contact drills at practices and failed to provide adequate concussion testing or care for players.

The Derek Sheely Foundation has already distributed thousands of concussion awareness kits to student-athletes and is expected to play an important role in reducing the amount of traumatic brain injuries suffered on the football field going forward.

The kits are part of the foundation’s “grassroots campaign to reach and inform young athletes (ages 5–18), their parents, and coaches of the signs, symptoms, dangers, and prevention of concussions and traumatic brain injuries. Each kit contains age-appropriate information such as a special pamphlet that provides young athletes with information about concussions.”

For its part, Frostburg State, a public state-run university, said it would retire Derek’s uniform number and create a full-tuition scholarship in his name.

Although the settlement amount is small, the case has far-reaching implications, since the NCAA, athletic conferences, and individual schools are named as defendants in several lawsuits over concussions and traumatic brain injury. This case could push the NCAA to take better care of football players in the future, mainly following Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge David Boynton’s ruling in this case that the NCAA’s mission statement gave it a “special relationship” with players. That ruling put part of the responsibility for protecting players—or, at least, for warning them—square on the shoulders of the association.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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