The NCAA and their co-defendants have agreed to pay $1.2 million to a foundation that was set up for a DIII football player who died from a head injury. The $1.2 million is part of the settlement agreement with the player’s family. While the settlement won’t affect any NCAA football lines, it brings closure to a case both sides have been trying to move past.
In 2011, Derek Sheely, who was a football player at Frostburg State, fainted during a practice after sustaining an injury to the head, and died later. Two years after Sheely’s death, members of his family filed a lawsuit against the NCAA, two of his coaches at Frostburg State, one of the team’s athletic trainers, and the company that manufactured the helmet he wore.
In their lawsuit, the family claimed that the school employees missed multiple chances to treat Sheely’s injury, and they claimed the NCAA was at fault for not implementing concussion protocol rules, and for not investigating Sheely’s death.
Sheely’s mother, Kristen Sheely, told reporters that despite the settlement, it was not the outcome the family wanted. Despite the pain of losing her son, Kristen Sheely said she was happy about the settlement because it will help other kids through the foundation.
Kenneth McClain, who represented the Sheely family in the lawsuit, said the settlement was "landmark” because it is the first case involving brain injury that the organization paid a significant amount of money to resolve.
McClain also said the case shows that football stakeholders are now on notice that they are obligated to protect the health and safety of the players, if they don’t, there will be severe repercussions.
According to Kristen Sheely, $1.15 million of the settlement is coming from the NCAA, while the other $50,000 will be paid by the state of Maryland, where the school is located.
As part of the settlement agreement, Frostburg State and the NCAA will also provide a grant to support a research project that deals with catastrophic risk. The foundation setup in Sheely’s name will be consulted on the research project. Additionally, the NCAA, The Derek Sheely Foundation, and Frostburg State will sponsor a symposium regarding catastrophic risks or head injuries by 2018.
The NCAA issued a statement saying the settlement isn’t an admission of liability. The organization also said it believes the settlement will help the Sheely foundation advance education and research in the prevention of traumatic brain injury.
Earlier this year, a Maryland judge denied the NCAA’s claim that the type of injury that Sheely was diagnosed with, second-impact syndrome from multiple concussions, is one of the known risks of playing football.
According to medical experts, second-impact syndrome occurs when the brain swells quickly after a person suffers a second concussion before the symptoms from an earlier concussion have subsided.
The NCAA also argued that it is not legally obligated to protect athletes. The organization argued that if sports organizations were liable for injuries, all athletic associations would be subject to litigation anytime a player gets injured because the organization failed to prevent the injury.
Despite the NCAA’s claims about not being responsible for protecting athletes, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge David Boynton ruled that the organization has a "special relationship" since it promises to protect college athletes in its mission statement.