Widow asks for $55 million from NCAA for football player’s death

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Lawyers on Monday asked a jury to award $55 million to the widow of a former USC football player, in a landmark case accusing the NCAA of failing to protect him from repeated head trauma that led to his death.

Matthew Gee, a hard-hitting linebacker who was part of the 1990 Rose Bowl-winning squad, suffered numerous blows that left permanent brain damage and led to cocaine and alcohol abuse from which he eventually died at age 49, his lawyers said in conclusion .

In the first case of its kind to go to a jury, the attorneys told jurors in the Los Angeles Superior Court that the NCAA, the governing body of college athletics in the U.S., had known about the effects of college athletics since the 1930s. head trauma in sports, but failed. decades to educate players about the risks or create rules to protect players.

“You can’t bring Matt back, but you can say that what the NCAA did to him was wrong,” said attorney Bill Horton. “Put this on the NCAA’s radar. … This is the only way they will ever listen.”

An NCAA attorney said Gee had suffered sudden cardiac death due to prolonged hypertension and acute cocaine poisoning and had a slew of other serious health problems.

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“The NCAA had nothing to do with the things that tragically took the life of Mr. Gee,” said attorney Will Stute.

The issue of concussions in sports, and football in particular, has taken center stage in recent years as research has discovered more about the long-term effects of repetitive head trauma on issues ranging from headaches to depression and sometimes early Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease. disease.

The month-long lawsuit is one of hundreds of wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits filed against the NCAA by college football players over the past decade.

But Gee’s is only the second case to go to trial with allegations that blows to the head led to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease. A 2018 case in Texas was settled a few days after trial and long before it would have gone to the jury.

Gee was one of five linebackers on the 1989 Trojans squad to die before turning 50. Like teammate and NFL star Junior Seau, who committed suicide in 2012, Gee’s brain was posthumously examined at Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center and found to have CTE.

CTE is associated with memory loss, depression and progressive dementia. The diagnosis can only be made after death.

Boston University has found CTE in the brains of 110 of 111 deceased former NFL players and 48 of 53 former college players, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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Hall of Famers diagnosed after death include Ken Stabler and Mike Webster.

In his senior year, Gee was team captain and led USC in tackles, forced fumbles, and recoveries from fumbles.

Gee married Alana, his college sweetheart, after graduating in 1992, and they lived a normal life for 20 years. They raised three children while he ran a successful insurance company in Southern California.

But things went downhill around 2013 when he started to lose control of his emotions, according to the lawsuit. He became angry, confused and depressed. He drank heavily. He told a doctor that days would pass without him remembering what had happened.

Attorneys for Gee said CTE, which is found in athletes and military veterans who suffered repeated brain injuries, was an indirect cause of death because head trauma has been shown to promote substance abuse.

“Rarely do you find CTE on a death certificate,” said attorney Justin Shrader.

Stute said the wrongful death case was about the cause of Gee’s death and not whether CTE exists. NCAA experts said CTE was still a hypothesis.

After years of denial, the NFL acknowledged in 2016 that BU’s research found a link between football. The league agreed to settle head injury cases involving 20,000 retired players who paid up to $4 million for a death involving CTE. It is expected to be more than $1.4 billion in payouts over 65 years for six qualifying terms.

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In 2016, the NCAA agreed to settle a class action concussion lawsuit, paying $70 million to monitor the medical condition of former college athletes, $5 million for medical exams, and payments of up to $5,000 for individual players claiming injuries .

Photo: Alana Gee, the widow of a former University of Southern California football player who is suing the NCAA for failing to protect her husband from repeated head trauma, is leaving the Los Angeles Superior Court’s Stanley Mosk Civil Courthouse Oct. 21. Matthew Gee died in 2018 from permanent brain damage caused by numerous blows to the head he received while playing linebacker for the Rose Bowl-winning team in 1990, according to the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Alana Gee. (UKTN Photo/Ringo HW Chiu)

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