NCAA: Athletes’ Injuries Not Our Problem

injuryGo to Google and type in the words ‘NCAA’ and ‘History.’ Click enter. In less than a third of a second, Google will retrieve about 160,000,000 relevant pages. The first one, the most relevant, is the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s own web site. It displays the site’s ‘About the NCAA’ tab, under which there’s an entire page devoted to the organization’s history.

Under the word ‘History,’ itself written in bold white letters on a blue background, are the following words:

“The NCAA was founded in 1906 to protect young people from the dangerous and exploitive athletics practices of the time.”

That’s right at the top, folks. The NCAA is proud of its mission, looking out for the welfare of student-athletes for more than a century.

Or at least it was proud. Just a few weeks ago, the NCAA had its lawyers submit the following to the Montgomery County (MD) Circuit Court:

“The NCAA denies that it has a legal duty to protect student-athletes.”

The filing, detailed by the Washington Times, came in response to a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of a football player who died after a practice. The suit alleges that in the summer of 2001, Frostburg State player Derek Sheely was injured during practice, and despite bleeding profusely from the forehead, was permitted – no, ordered – to return to the field and engage in a drill requiring full-force collisions between players. After sustaining additional hits, he collapsed and died of head injuries.

There are two sides to every story, of course, and the culpability of the school, the helmet manufacturer, and the NCAA itself – all names in the family’s lawsuit, has yet to be determined. But the infuriating thing today, the part of it that makes the blood boil, are those 12 words:

“The NCAA denies that it has a legal duty to protect student-athletes.”

They were obviously drafted by attorneys, but they were approved by the NCAA leaders.

So to cover its arse from a lawsuit, the NCAA through its charges under the bus. Sorry, folks, we make the rules, but we don’t stand behind them. The buck definitely doesn’t stop here.

NCAA Student-Athletes’ Bill of Rights #4: Student-Athletes’ Right #4:”Each student-athlete shall have the right to the establishment of national rules, regulations, and policies that protect the health and safety of the student-athlete, as well as athletic officials, athletic department personnel, and sport spectators.”

Let’s go back to the NCAA’s own website, where it boast about its concern for student athletes. The organization has a committee charged specifically to make sure rules are in place to protect student-athletes. The NCAA regulates playing rules; it dictates uniform specifications, padding and practice time, all in the name of protecting the student-athlete from injury.

We missed the fine print at the bottom of the contract, that said ‘nah, just kidding.’ The rules aren’t for real, the NCAA says now, they’re just snake oil we sell players and their parents to protect our bottom line. If the court agrees and rules that the NCAA has no real responsibility, the fallout will be tremendous. If the NCAA isn’t taken seriously now, it will be completely toothless after this. Imagine the next coach it tries to discipline for going over the quota for practice hours. Forget you (or something like that), the coach will say – you already admitted you have no authority here.

The next time NCAA President Mark Emmert – who makes more than $1.7 million annually, by the way – plants himself in front of a microphone of television camera, I pray somebody will ask him if the court filing reflects a new NCAA policy. The correct answer is of course not, it’s always been the policy. They just make sure nobody outside Emmert’s executive suite knows it.


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