NCAA rejects claims in concussion lawsuit

CHICAGO — Rejecting claims made in a lawsuit concerning concussions, the NCAA said Saturday it has taken steps to protect student athletes from head injuries and that player safety is among the college sports association’s core principles.

Attorneys suing the NCAA over its handling of head injuries asked a federal judge Friday to let them expand the lawsuit to include thousands of plaintiffs nationwide. The motion seeking class-action status was filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, where the original lawsuit was filed in 2011 on behalf of former Eastern Illinois football player Adrian Arrington and several other former athletes.

“Student-athlete safety is one of the NCAA’s foundational principles,” said spokeswoman Stacey Osburn. “The NCAA has been at the forefront of safety issues throughout its existence.”

She said the association has addressed the issue of head injuries through a combination of playing rules, equipment requirements and medical practices. The NCAA does not believe the legal action is appropriate, Osburn said.

Concussions have become a major concern in sports in recent years. The NFL, NHL and college football, among others, have implemented stricter rules on hits to the head and player safety. The NFL is involved in a lawsuit involving more than 4,000 former players seeking millions of dollars for problems they blame on head injuries suffered during their careers.

Attached to the class-action request from those suing the NCAA is a report for the plaintiffs by a leading authority on concussions, Robert Cantu, who cites an internal NCAA survey from 2010. He said the NCAA found that nearly half of the college trainers who responded to the survey indicated they put athletes showing signs of a concussion back into the same game.

“It is well settled in the scientific community that an athlete must never be returned to play on the same day after a concussion diagnosis,” said Cantu, who is medical director of the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research in Chapel Hill, N.C.

The plaintiffs say the NCAA was lax in establishing a clear policy about dealing with concussions, leaving key decisions to individual schools or leagues.

Arrington contends he suffered “numerous and repeated concussions” at Eastern Illinois. He is seeking unspecified monetary damages and changes in policy, including the establishment of a long-term medical monitoring program for injured athletes and new concussion guidelines for schools and coaches.

The NCAA said it has taken recent steps to increase awareness of how to treat possible head injuries, from legislation and outreach efforts to new rules on the playing field. On Friday, the NCAA said it was awarding a $399,999 grant to fund a study into the long-term effects of head injuries in college sports.

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