By Briana Vannozzi
Seventy million dollars. That’s how much the NCAA has agreed to in a preliminary settlement for a class action head injury lawsuit. It’s been a long time coming for the thousands of former and current college athletes who have suffered brain injuries from contact sports.
“I think anything you can do to make the game safer and a better game is certainly a positive thing and what this settlement does is it provides funds for education research and testing that are all for the benefit of the student athlete,” said Monmouth University Head Football Coach Kevin Callahan.
It applies to men and women who have played in the last 50 years at any of the 1,000 accredited NCAA schools. Many colleges already have standards in place. This settlement requires all athletes take baseline neurological tests at the beginning of each year, concussion education for both the coaches and the players and a new medical committee to oversee the testing.
The recovery is no joke.
“The short term symptoms of a concussion are disorientation, balance problems, memory issue, sometimes emotional liability, or flying off the handle after a minor event or being very emotional. Typically patients will have headaches,” said Dr. Mark R. McLaughlin, medical director for Princeton Brain and Spine.
And if another injury happens too soon after the first, long-term affects can be devastating.
Up until now, returning athletes to play after they’ve had a blow to the head has been left up to each college to decide, but this settlement requires a uniform protocol they’ll all have to follow.
Chuck Whedon oversees sports medicine for the athletics department at Monmouth University. He’s seen his share of head injuries and knows what teams are up against.
“Every kid wants to continue playing. They’re all invincible, especially at this age, and they really don’t know and more importantly they don’t care about the consequences,” Whedon said.
He supports the reform, but says it’s not so simple.
“When you mandate a return protocol and you make it too stringent, you open yourself up to individuals questioning any deviation either way,” he said.
Here’s what the deal doesn’t do — set aside money to pay players who’ve suffered the brain trauma, much like the NFL suit, to pay for the often expensive and extensive therapy that follows.
“I think what we’re seeing today and in recent years is a much heightened awareness to concussions, the symptoms that they project and there’s a greater attention given to them now than there was 40 or 50 years ago,” said Callahan.
But before any of this can happen, a U.S. district judge must give preliminary approval — which could take months — and then wait for affected athletes to weigh in before signing off.