Los Angeles — Monday, attorneys urged a jury to award $55 million to the widow of a former USC football player whose death was allegedly caused by recurrent head injuries to which the NCAA failed to safeguard him.
In a photograph supplied by USC Athletics, former Southern California football player Matthew Gee participates in an NCAA contest. USC Athletics as reported by AP
Matthew Gee, a hard-hitting linebacker for the 1990 Rose Bowl-winning team, experienced several hits that caused lasting brain damage and led to cocaine and alcohol misuse, which ultimately led to his death at age 49, according to his attorneys’ closing statements. Monday, Alana Gee, his widow, was present in the courtroom.
In the first case of its kind to be heard by a jury, the attorneys told Los Angeles Superior Court jurors that the NCAA, the governing body of college athletics in the United States, had known about the effects of head trauma in sports since the 1930s but failed to warn players of the risks or implement rules to protect them.
Attorney Bill Horton stated, “You cannot bring Matt back, but you can say that what the NCAA did to him was wrong.” “Bring this to the attention of the NCAA…. This is the only way they’ll ever listen.”
A lawyer for the NCAA stated that Gee died of a sudden heart arrest due to chronic hypertension and acute cocaine poisoning. He detailed a number of Gee’s other major health issues, which he said were unrelated to football.
Attorney Will Stute stated, “The NCAA had nothing to do with the events that unfortunately claimed Mr. Gee’s life.”
In recent years, the subject of concussions in sports, and football in particular, has risen to the forefront as researchers have learned more about the long-term repercussions of repeated head trauma, such as headaches, depression, and occasionally early onset Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease.
The month-long trial is one of hundreds of wrongful death and personal injury cases filed against the NCAA in the previous decade by college football players.
However, Gee’s case is just the second in which it is alleged that head trauma caused chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain illness. A case in Texas in 2018 was resolved a few days into the trial.
Gee was one of five linebackers on the 1989 Trojans team that passed away before reaching the age of 50. As with teammate and NFL player Junior Seau, who committed suicide in 2012, Gee’s brain was postmortem analyzed at the Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center at Boston University and revealed to have CTE.
Memory loss, sadness, and gradual dementia are linked to CTE. It is only diagnosable postmortem.
A research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association identified CTE in the brains of 110 of 111 deceased former NFL players and 48 of 53 former collegiate players from Boston University.
Ken Stabler and Mike Webb are two posthumously diagnosed Hall of Famers.
Gee was team captain and led USC in tackles, forced fumbles, and fumble recoveries during his senior season.
After graduation in 1992, Gee wed Alana, his college love, and they enjoyed a regular life for twenty years. They raised three children in Southern California while he operated a thriving insurance firm.
According to the lawsuit, things changed about 2013, when he began to lose control of his emotions. He developed anger, confusion, and depression. He drank excessively. He informed the physician that he had forgotten entire days.
Attorneys for Gee asserted that chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is observed in sports and military veterans with recurrent brain injuries, was an indirect cause of death since head trauma has been documented to trigger substance dependence.
Stute stated that the wrongful death lawsuit concerned the cause of Gee’s death and not the existence of CTE, which he described as a theory.
After years of denial, the NFL conceded in 2016 that studies from Boston University demonstrated a relationship between football and CTE. The NFL has agreed to settle head injury lawsuits involving 20,000 retired players for a maximum of $4 million per CTE-related death. It is anticipated that compensation will surpass $1.4 billion over 65 years for six qualifying conditions.
In 2016, the NCAA agreed to resolve a class-action concussion case, paying $70 million to monitor the medical health of former collegiate athletes, $5 million to medical research, and up to $5,000 to players alleging injury.
Gee never reported having a concussion, and on his application to play for the Raiders following graduation, he stated that he had never been rendered unconscious.
Noting that CTE was not found until 2005, he stated that the NCAA is being forced to defend itself against claims of which it was previously ignorant. He stated that nothing the NCAA could have done would have saved Gee’s life.
“You cannot hold the NCAA liable for something that was never disclosed 40 years later,” Stute added. “Plaintiffs want you to use a time machine. At the NCAA, we do not own one. It is unfair.”
Stute stated that a former NFL official who studied all accessible films of Gee’s USC games concluded that he was safely tackled without utilizing his head and that there were no symptoms of head injuries.
Horton argued that during Gee’s playing career, the NCAA did not disclose the medical hazards of recurrent head injuries, did not prohibit players from returning to the field after injuries, and did not limit the amount of practices despite requests to do so.
“Deliver a judgement… so that he did not die in vain,” stated Horton. So that every 18-year-old football player is aware of the game’s inherent risks.