Trial starts in concussion case of dead USC football player

Oct 20, 2022, 10:08 AM | Updated: Oct 21, 2022, 5:02 pm
Alana Gee, the widow of a former University of Southern California football player suing the NCAA f...

Alana Gee, the widow of a former University of Southern California football player suing the NCAA for failing to protect her husband from repetitive head trauma, leaves the Stanley Mosk civil courthouse of Los Angeles Superior Court on Friday, Oct. 21, 2022. Matthew Gee died in 2018 from permanent brain damage caused by countless blows to the head he took while playing linebacker for the 1990 Rose Bowl winning team, according to the wrongful death suit filed by Alana Gee. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

(AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Los Angeles jury heard opening statements Friday in the case of a widow of a former University of Southern California football player suing the NCAA for failing to protect her husband from repetitive head trauma.

Matthew Gee died at age 49 in 2018 from permanent brain damage caused by countless blows to the head he took while playing linebacker for the 1990 Rose Bowl-winning team, according to the wrongful death suit filed by Alana Gee.

The jury of eight women and six men listened along with Gee and two of her three children to lengthy opening statements from both sides in Los Angeles Superior Court.

At times, Gee and her daughter, Melia, dabbed their eyes with tissue as attorneys recounted the life of her husband and his struggles with alcohol and drug addiction.

One of Gee’s attorneys, Justin Shrader, said she is seeking $1.8 million in damages based on her husband’s life expectancy. He said Gee is also seeking damages for wrongful death, loss of her husband’s companionship and a survival claim for Gee.

“Alana wants to be one of the last widows to find out that college football can cause CTE,” Shrader said, referring to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease.

Of the hundreds of wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits brought by college football players against the NCAA in the past decade, Gee’s is only the second to go to trial with allegations that hits to the head led to CTE. It could be the first to reach a jury.

“This case is a big deal,” said attorney Will Stute, who is representing the NCAA.

The NCAA, the governing body of college athletics in the U.S., said it wasn’t responsible for Gee’s husband’s death, which it blamed on heavy drinking, drugs and other health problems.

“We believe the evidence is going to show it was impossible for Matthew Gee to assume the risk of degenerative brain disease because the NCAA still believes it doesn’t exist,” said Bill Horton, another of Gee’s attorneys.

Stute later countered, saying, “I will not tell you that the NCAA denies CTE is a real medical issue, but there is still no consensus in the medical community on what causes CTE. The NCAA has always and will continue to follow the science.”

The defense has sought to exclude any testimony about Gee’s teammates and the NCAA said there was no medical evidence he suffered from concussions at USC.

“This case is not about concussions,” Stute told the jury. “We’ve heard a lot of talk about concussions. There is no evidence that Matthew Gee was ever diagnosed with a concussion, never reported a concussion.”

“There is nothing the NCAA could have done to prevent Gee’s death,” Stute said.

Horton disagreed, telling the jury, “We believe he suffered a number of concussions at USC and was never warned what might happen later in life.”

The issue of concussions in sports, and football in particular, has been front and center in recent years as research has discovered more about long-term effects of repeated head trauma in problems ranging from headaches to depression and, sometimes, early onset Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease.

A 2018 trial in Texas led to a swift settlement after several days of testimony by witnesses for the widow of Greg Ploetz, who played defense for Texas in the late 1960s.

In 2016, the NCAA agreed to settle a class-action concussion lawsuit, paying $70 million to monitor former college athlete’s medical conditions, $5 million toward medical research and payments of up to $5,000 toward individual players claiming injuries.

Stute stressed to the jury that it focus on the years from 1988-92, when Gee played for the Trojans.

“Evidence will show CTE was not discovered in a football player until 2005,” he said. “But somehow the NCAA was supposed to be warning people about a disease that hadn’t been identified yet.”

The NFL has been hit with similar concussion suits and eventually agreed to a settlement covering 20,000 retired players providing up to $4 million for a death involving CTE, which is found in athletes and military veterans who suffered repetitive brain injuries. It’s expected to exceed $1.4 billion in payouts over 65 years for six qualifying conditions.

After years of denials, the NFL acknowledged in 2016 that research done at Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center showed a link between football and CTE, which is associated with memory loss, depression and progressive dementia. It can only be diagnosed after death.

The center 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.

Hall of Famers diagnosed after death include Ken Stabler and Mike Webster and Junior Seau, a teammate of Gee’s at USC.

The NCAA, which required schools in 2010 to have a concussion protocol, said long-term effects of head injuries weren’t well understood at the time Gee played.

Alana Gee donated her late husband’s brain to Boston University’s CTE Center, which confirmed he suffered from Grade 2 CTE, a lower level of the disease.

The preliminary cause of Gee’s death was listed as the combined toxic effects of alcohol and cocaine with other significant conditions of cardiovascular disease, cirrhosis and obesity.

Stute displayed Boston University’s summary of Matthew Gee’s medical records, which also noted that he had Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, a rare congenital vascular disorder that causes chronic pain.

“We believe the substance abuse issues were because of his CTE, that the brain was affected first before other things happened,” Horton said.

Stute said the defense believes the key question is what killed Gee. He went on to display Gee’s medical records, which noted his use of marijuana, LSD and cocaine, as well as alcohol.

“He hid his drinking and drug use from his family and doctors,” Stute said. “He kept drinking after being diagnosed with hypertension and liver disease. It’s not to blame Mr. Gee. It’s simply the facts of the matter.”

___

Associated Press Writer Brian Melley contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

France's Kylian Mbappe celebrates scoring his side's third goal during the World Cup round of 16 so...
Associated Press

Rested Mbappé to face England in World Cup quarterfinals

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Yes, Kylian Mbappé will be ready to face England at the World Cup on Saturday. No, the France forward was not injured when he missed a recent training session. France teammate Ibrahima Konaté delivered a reassuring message about Mbappé on Wednesday, news that perhaps England fans did not want to hear […]
1 day ago
Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) looks to pass before San Francisco 49ers defensive en...
Associated Press

Tagovailoa, Zaporizhzhia make list of most mangled words

BOSTON (AP) — “Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa explained the significance of the Chicxulub impact crater to actor Domhnall Gleeson over a drink of negroni sbagliato in the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia,” is the kind of sentence that just might tie your tongue up in knots. It contains five examples from this year’s list of […]
1 day ago
goalkeeper Andries Noppert of the Netherlands celebrates at the end of the World Cup round of 16 so...
Associated Press

Netherlands’ Noppert on Messi in World Cup: `He’s a human’

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Andries Noppert is ready to face Lionel Messi if the Argentina star takes a penalty kick in Friday’s World Cup quarterfinal match. “He’s the same like us. He’s a human,” the Netherlands goalkeeper said Wednesday. Messi has scored 21 goals in 26 penalty kick attempts for Argentina among his 94 international […]
1 day ago
Brenda and Brian Lilly look at photos of their son Brian Lilly Jr. in their Easton, Conn. home, Thu...
Associated Press

Rower’s family says abusive coach pushed athlete to suicide

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — On New Year’s Day nearly two years ago, Parker Kinney spent the day with Brian Lilly Jr. at picturesque Scripps Beach in the San Diego area and realized his friend had become a shadow of his former self. Kinney and Lilly walked on the sand for hours and went to dinner. […]
1 day ago
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) is sacked by Detroit Lions linebacker James H...
Associated Press

Jaguars’ Lawrence sits out practice with sprained big toe

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence won’t practice Wednesday because of a sprained big toe on his left foot, but coach Doug Pederson expects the second-year pro to get on the practice field later in the week and potentially play at Tennessee. Lawrence was wearing a protective shoe on his foot, which […]
1 day ago
Canada's goalkeeper Milan Borjan, center, defends a shot during the World Cup group F soccer match ...
Associated Press

Croatia, Serbia fined for Balkan statements at World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The Croatian and Serbian soccer federations were fined by FIFA on Wednesday for making Balkan political statements at the World Cup. FIFA fined the Croatians 50,000 Swiss francs ($53,000) after the team’s fans verbally abused and taunted Canada goalkeeper Milan Borjan, who has Serbian family ties. The Serbian soccer federation was […]
1 day ago
Trial starts in concussion case of dead USC football player