Family of '50s-Era Player Suing NCAA Over Concussions

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The family of a 1950s Southern Methodist University football player is suing the NCAA for failure to protect athletes from concussions.

The Dallas Morning News reported that the family of John Thomas Davis filed a lawsuit for $1 million in damages in Dallas County Court on Tuesday.

“The NCAA failed to initiate policies or rules necessary to protect John Thomas Davis in the face of the long-standing and overwhelming evidence regarding the need to do so,” says the lawsuit, which has been filed by Karol, John and Mary Davis.

John Thomas Davis, who was an SMU lineman from 1955-59, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2001. According to Yahoo, he was posthumously diagnosed with stage 4 CTE in 2017. The degenerative brain disease, which is caused by repeated head injuries, has frequently been found in former football players after their deaths.

“There’s no doubt he got the CTE from playing college football,” said Gene Egdorf, the Davis’ attorney. “He wasn’t warned or told about what the NCAA knew or should have known those risks.

“We believe since the early 1900s the NCAA had sufficient information about the risks of damage from playing college football. It didn’t take appropriate actions to help the players or warn the players.”

The lawsuit says that when Davis played “there was no rule prohibiting players from targeting the heads of other players with their helmets or leading with their heads when tackling or blocking.”

The NCAA’s awareness of concussion issues dates back to at least 1933.

“The NCAA’s medical handbook for schools and colleges recommended that players with concussions should receive rest and constant supervision and not be permitted to play or practice until symptom-free for 48 hours,” the lawsuit says of the 1933 handbook. “For symptoms lasting longer than 48 hours, it recommended players ‘not be permitted to compete for 21 days or longer, if at all.’ Additionally, it stated ‘there is definitely a condition described as ‘punch drunk’ and often recurrent concussion cases in football and boxing demonstrate this. Any individual who is knocked unconscious repeatedly on slight provocation should be forbidden to play body-contact sport.”

Egdorf represented the family of 1960s University of Texas player Greg Ploetz, who died from brain injuries in 2015. The NCAA settled the wrongful death lawsuit in 2018, but didn’t publicly admit liability.

Related content: NCAA Settles Concussion Lawsuit on Third Day of Trial

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