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Lawsuit Targets NCAA's Lack of Response to Concussions

Following the lead of former NFL players, a Chicago attorney has filed a class-action lawsuit against the NCAA alleging failure to protect football players and other student-athletes from suffering concussions. According to the Legal Newsline website, Joseph Siprut filed the lawsuit this week on behalf of plaintiff Adrian Arrington, a 25-year-old former player on Eastern Illinois University's football team who sustained numerous concussions between 2006 and 2009. The lawsuit also claims the NCAA has ignored studies showing the risks and effects of concussions (such as early-onset dementia, depression, and lowered cognitive abilities) and failed to implement policies to address the problem. As California attorney Nikki Wilson Cary notes on the Collegiate and Professional Sports Law Blog, the litigation is the first targeting the association rather than an individual school.

"For over 30 years, the NCAA has failed its student-athletes - choosing instead to sacrifice them on an altar of money and profits," Siprut wrote in the complaint. "The NCAA has engaged in a long-established pattern of negligence and inaction with respect to concussions and concussion-related maladies sustained by its student-athletes, all the while profiting immensely from those same student-athletes."

Among the allegations made against the NCAA in the lawsuit:

• Failure to address or correct coaching of tackling methods that cause head injuries• Failure to implement system-wide return-to-play guidelines for players who have sustained concussions• Failure to implement guidelines for screening and detection of head injuries• Failure to implement legislation addressing treatment and eligibility of players who have sustained multiple concussions• Failure to implement a support system for players unable to play football or lead a normal life after sustaining concussions

Siprut also claims that the NCAA's April 2010 mandate requiring each school to have a concussion management plan in place by August 2010 is, in Cary's words, "too little, too late."

"The class-action lawsuit serves as a sharp reminder that colleges or universities with athletic programs, whether NCAA or not, should maintain and implement a clear concussion management plan to help ensure the safety of athletes and minimize exposure to the organization," she wrote. "Moreover, even if a concussion management plan is in place, it is important to monitor whether or not the plan is effective and if your organization is following the plan as drafted. When dealing with concussions, you cannot be too careful or too prepared."

Last month, Arizona became the first state to implement a statewide cognitive baseline testing program in municipal youth sports.

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