Former University of South Carolina defensive lineman Stanley Doughty is the lead plaintiff on a lawsuit against the NCAA filed this week claiming college football’s governing body “breached its duty to protect NCAA football players.”
“If you read the complaint, there is a compelling story about how the NCAA has known for a long time the risks of injury were more than folks knew going in and furthermore there were assurances by the NCAA that protective measure were being taken,” said John Nichols, a Columbia attorney who filed the suit along with Birmingham, Ala., attorney Chris Hellums.
Those measures, in fact, were not being taken, Nichols and the lawsuit say.
The 28-page document, which was filed Tuesday in the Columbia division of United States District Court, asks for the NCAA to provide a medical monitoring fund for all former college football players who did not play in the NFL as well as pay unspecified damages “to compensate Plaintiffs for past, current, and future injuries sustained as a result of the Defendant’s conduct.”
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The suit also seeks damages “for the wanton, reckless, intentional and/or wrongful conduct of the Defendant and to punish and deter similar wrongful conduct … physical pain and suffering … mental anguish … permanent injury … (and) punitive damages.”
For now, Doughty is the only person named in the complaint but that is expected to change, Nichols said.
“Right now Stanley is the face of this lawsuit,” he said. “I think that once folks see that this lawsuit has been filed we will probably get a few more phone calls.”
This is believed to be the first suit against the NCAA filed in South Carolina although similar suits have been filed in Indiana, Illinois and Tennessee, according to research done by Nichols’ office.
Dougthy lives in Amite, La., with his parents. He suffers from “limited use of his right arm and a burning sensation, anxiety, irritability, depression, mood swings, inability to concentrate, and sleeplessness. He is at increased risk of latent brain injuries caused by repeated head impacts in his college football career and therefore is in need of medical monitoring,” according to the lawsuit.
“Stanley is having trouble,” Nichols said. “He approached Chris and his story is so compelling that Chris said, ‘We have to do something.’ ”
Doughty, a Gamecock from 2003 to 2006, was seriously injured twice while at South Carolina, leading to a spinal injury that eventually cut short his football career, the lawsuit alleges. Once, during a practice in 2004, he experienced temporary paralysis and a persistent tingling feeling in his arms and neck after colliding with a teammate, according to the lawsuit. In 2005, during a game against Tennessee, Doughty was again momentarily paralyzed after a collision and then returned to the field after a five-minute rest in the locker room that did not include MRI testing, according to the lawsuit.
“The NCAA has breached its duty to protect college football players in the face of long-standing and overwhelming evidence regarding the need to do so. The NCAA has ignored this duty and profited immensely from its inaction and denial, all to the detriment of the players,” the lawsuit reads.
Doughty, who could not be reached for comment, was an all-state defensive lineman at St. Helena Central High School in Greensburg, La., who signed with South Carolina in 2003. After a redshirt season, he had 11 tackles as a freshman in 2004 and started nine games and recorded 24 tackles as a sophomore in 2005. After a junior year in which he had 17 tackles, including three for loss, Doughty decided to surrender his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft.
He went undrafted but was signed to a free agent contract by the Kansas City Chiefs. It was the Chiefs doctors, the lawsuit alleges, who told Doughty he could no longer safely play football and would not be allowed to stay with the team and needed surgery to correct the problem. He has not had that surgery, his lawsuit alleges.
Doughty was featured in The Atlantic magazine in May in an article titled, “ ‘I Trusted ’Em’: When NCAA Schools Abandon Their Injured Athletes.” The article outlined Doughty’s brief tenure with the Chiefs and his assertion that he returned to South Carolina in hopes of having medical expenses covered only to have his phone calls stopped being returned and re-entrance to the school denied.
“South Carolina’s lawyer has declined to comment on the school’s handling of Doughty’s football injuries. Team doctor Jeffrey Guy had this to say: ‘At the end of the day, we take very good care of our athletes. We don’t send them out and say we’re not going to take care of you anymore,’ ” the article stated.
South Carolina is not named in the lawsuit, and Nichols does not believe that was ever a consideration, although he said he has not spoken directly to Doughty.
“Our focus mainly is on the NCAA,” Nichols said.
The NCAA was or should have been aware of the growing body of research linking repeated head trauma and concussions with immediate and future medical problems and not only failed to educate college football players about the risks but also failed for too long to put into practice measures to lessen those risks, the lawsuit alleges.
This season’s emphasis on targeting is one example of the NCAA now trying to correct that wrong, Nichols said.
“What the NCAA has failed to do is look back and take care of people who weren’t the beneficiaries of those efforts, and those efforts could have been made years ago,” Nichols said.
The NFL recently agreed to pay $765 million as part of a settlement with many of its former players who had filed a similar lawsuit.
“I think what has gone on with the NFL reaching its resolution coupled with a number of things that have been on television (about the connection between football and head injuries), I think people have decided to really focus on the brain injury aspect of this sport,” Nichols said.