Family Sues NCAA After Concussion-Related Football Death


Derek Sheely

Derek Sheely

CREDIT: Frostburg State University

The family of a former Frostburg State University football player who died after suffering a concussion in practice has filed a lawsuit against the university’s football coaches and the NCAA alleging wrongful death, the Associated Press reported Monday. Derek Sheeley, 22, played fullback at the small Maryland college, which is a member of the NCAA’s Division III. He collapsed on the sideline of football practice after suffering a second concussion in August 2011.

The suit says that coaches never checked Sheeley for a concussion even though he was bleeding from the head and that Frostburg State’s coaches “treated all injuries — brain injuries and ankle sprains — the same: You were expected to play through them.” Sheeley suffered the injury, the lawsuit says, while participating in “gladiatorial” contact drills during practice, AP reports:

The two-a-day practices involved nearly nonstop, head-to-head collisions, especially for fullbacks like Sheely, who had to “smash into” linebackers at full speed during the so-called “Oklahoma Drill,” causing dozens of concussive or subconcussive blows, the lawsuit said. Two other players had suffered concussion during camp, and team officials knew or should have known that Sheely had suffered a concussion the prior season.

The suit names Frostburg State head football coach Thomas Rogish, helmet manufacturer Schutt, and the NCAA as co-defendants. For the NCAA, it’s another concussion-related lawsuit to go with the major suit filed by six former athletes in Chicago last year. That suit claims that the NCAA failed to institute proper protocols for dealing with concussions, and court documents in the case detail what appears to be an extensive history of ignoring the dangers of concussions at the NCAA.

The NCAA attempted to shield itself from potential legal liability when it convened a concussion working group in 2010, and it came away from that summit ready to require its member schools to institute Concussion Management Plans. NCAA officials, however, have admitted that the organization does not punish schools that do not submit their plans and has no plans to monitor whether schools are following them. The NCAA does not have standard concussion protocols or return-to-play standards in place, only minimum guidelines it suggests schools should follow. As a result, only 66 percent of its member schools perform baseline concussion testing and fewer than 50 percent require concussed players to see a physician before returning to play, according to a past NCAA survey.