Oct 24, 2022 - Sports

NCAA braces for landmark CTE trial

Illustration of a brain with football stitching across the side

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A potentially landmark CTE trial began Friday in Los Angeles, when opening statements were heard in the wrongful death lawsuit filed by former USC linebacker Matt Gee's widow.

Why it matters: This is just the second wrongful death lawsuit brought against the NCAA by a college football player to go to trial, and it could be the first to reach a jury.

The backdrop: Gee played for USC from 1988-92, but after getting cut by the Raiders in training camp as a rookie, he left the game. He married his college sweetheart, Alana, they had three kids and he ran an insurance company for 20 years.

  • But in 2013, his temperament drastically changed. He became angry, confused and depressed and started drinking heavily, according to Alana — all symptoms of CTE.
  • He died on New Year's Eve 2018, with the original cause listed as the toxic effects of drugs and alcohol, paired with other health issues like obesity.
  • Alana donated his brain to Boston University's CTE center, which diagnosed him with CTE.
  • The NCAA stands by the original cause of death, while Alana's suit claims it was the result of repeated head injuries that the NCAA failed to protect him from.

State of play: A study this summer found conclusive evidence that repeated head trauma causes CTE, and in 2016, the NFL acknowledged a link between football and CTE. The NCAA has yet to do so.

What they're saying: "We believe [Gee] suffered a number of concussions at USC and was never warned what might happen later in life," said one of Gee's attorneys.

The other side: The NCAA's attorney countered that "evidence will show CTE was not discovered in a football player until 2005. But somehow the NCAA was supposed to be warning people about a disease that hadn't been identified yet."

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