Family of ex-SMU football player seeks $1 million in lawsuit against NCAA over concussions

The Dallas Morning News

March 4, 2020

The family of a former SMU football player is suing the NCAA for failing to take effective action to protect from the long-term effects of concussions and sub-concussive blows.

John Thomas Davis was a lineman at SMU from 1955-59. He was posthumously diagnosed with Stage IV Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2001.

The lawsuit does not name SMU as a defendant in the case, despite alleging that the actions that led to his diagnoses were a direct result of his playing time at SMU, an NCAA institution.

“We believe since the early 1900s the NCAA had sufficient information about the risks of brain damage from playing college football,” said attorney Gene Egdorf. “And it didn’t take appropriate actions to help the players or warn the players.”

The lawsuit was filed in Dallas County Court on Tuesday.

“The NCAA failed to initiate policies or rules necessary to protect John Thomas Davis in the face of long-standing and overwhelming evidence regarding the need to do so,” the lawsuit reads.

At the heart of the phrase “long-standing and overwhelming evidence” is a 1933 NCAA handbook that had protocols in place for concussion treatment for players showing concussion-like symptoms.
Egdorf said he plans to call witnesses that were Davis’ teammates at the time who are still alive to talk about the culture of the football program. There will also be expert witnesses and other NCAA documentation.

“He played college football” Egdorf said. “There’s no doubt he got the CTE from playing college football. And he wasn’t warned or told about what the NCAA knew or should have known those risks.”

In 2018, the NCAA settled with the family of Greg Ploetz, a former University of Texas football player, who won a national championship in 1969. The family settled with the NCAA on the wrongful death lawsuit. It was considered a landmark case.

Ploetz was also represented by Egdorf, who said he now fields many calls and mail from people who want to sue under this precedent. His firm has taken cases that are the strongest.

Notably, the NCAA did not admit liability publicly in that Ploetz case, and told ESPN at the time that they would “continue to defend the Association vigorously in all jurisdictions where similar unwarranted individual cases are pursued.”

Davis had his own autopsy in February 2017. The lawsuit notes that the NCAA was negligent in failing to protect Davis following concussive blows, and that “there was no rule prohibiting players from targeting the heads of other players with their helmets or leading with their heads when tackling or blocking.”

The NCAA wasn’t found directly responsible in court in the Ploetz case, so there is no actual legal precedent. But the fact that the NCAA settled indicates the possible start of a trend where more and more ex-athletes and their families start to come forward.

“Now that there’s more awareness,” Egdorf said. “Now that there are more brains being studied by the experts at Boston University, we’re getting more information to show that there are athletes who had CTE. I think that’s going cause the explosion, if you will, in cases. Because we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg.”

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