According to court documents, Whittier played football in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) from 1969 to 1972. Whittier alleges that he suffered “repeated traumatic head impacts” while playing for the University of Texas, but because of his early onset Alzheimer’s disease cannot recall the specific incidents when he suffered brain trauma.
“The NCAA has breached its duty to protect college football players in the face of long-standing and overwhelming evidence regarding the need to do so,” the lawsuit alleges. “The NCAA has ignored this duty and profited immensely from its inaction and denial, all to the detriment of the players.” The lawsuit further alleges that the NCAA did not educate its athletes about the risk of head injuries, nor did it establish proper protocols to prevent, mitigate or treat brain injuries.
The NCAA’s failure to do so constitutes, according to the lawsuit, “negligence and reckless endangerment.”
Among health problems linked to head injury are concussion, confusion, blurred vision, memory loss and nausea. Patients can develop signs of traumatic brain injury. Repeated trauma has been linked to latent brain injury, cognitive impairment, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
The lawsuit, case number 1:14-cv-978, seeks class-action status for all former NCAA football players who played from 1960 to 2014, did not go on to play football in the NFL and have been diagnosed with brain injury or disease.
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The NFL has been involved in its own litigation with players alleging they were put at risk of serious brain injury and not properly warned about the consequences of repeated head trauma. That lawsuit has been tentatively settled, but the proposed settlement will be reviewed in a fairness hearing before it can be approved. Not all plaintiffs are happy with the proposed settlement.
In addition to the NCAA and NFL, the NHL faces a proposed class-action lawsuit alleging its officials knew about the risks associated with traumatic brain injuries but failed to warn its athletes about those risks, and failed to properly protect them from injuries.