She Said NCAA Caused Husband's Death. Jury Disagrees

Jurors rule in favor of sports body, blamed by wife of ex-USC player Matthew Gee for his CTE
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 23, 2022 8:13 AM CST
She Said NCAA Caused Husband's Death. Jury Disagrees
Alana Gee, the widow of a former USC football player suing the NCAA for failing to protect her husband from repetitive head trauma, leaves the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in Los Angeles on Oct. 21.   (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu, File)

A Los Angeles jury on Tuesday rejected a claim by the widow of a former USC football player who said the NCAA failed to protect him from repeated head trauma that led to his death. Matthew Gee, a linebacker on the 1990 Rose Bowl-winning squad, endured an estimated 6,000 hits that caused permanent brain damage and led to cocaine and alcohol abuse that eventually killed him at age 49, lawyers for his widow alleged. The NCAA said it had nothing to do with Gee's death, which it said was a sudden cardiac arrest brought on by untreated hypertension and acute cocaine toxicity. A lawyer for the governing body of US college sports said Gee suffered from many other health problems not related to football, such as cirrhosis, that would have eventually killed him.

The verdict could have broad ramifications for college athletes who blame the NCAA for head injuries. Hundreds of wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits have been brought by college football players against the NCAA in the past decade, but Gee's is the first one to reach a jury alleging that hits to the head led to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease known by its acronym, CTE. Alana Gee had testified that the college sweethearts had 20 good years of marriage before her husband's mental health began to deteriorate and he became angry, depressed, and impulsive, and began overeating and abusing drugs and alcohol. Attorneys for Gee said CTE, which is found in athletes and military veterans who suffered repetitive brain injuries, was an indirect cause of death because head trauma has been shown to promote substance abuse.

Her lawyers had asked jurors to award $55 million to compensate for her loss. Attorneys for Gee's family said there was no doubt that Matt Gee suffered concussions and countless subconcussive blows. Gee was one of five linebackers on the 1989 Trojans squad who died before turning 50. All displayed signs of mental deterioration associated with head trauma. Jurors weren't allowed to hear testimony about Gee's deceased teammates. As with teammate and NFL star Junior Seau, who killed himself in 2012, Gee's brain was examined posthumously at Boston University's Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center and found to have CTE. Alana Gee's lawyers had argued that the NCAA, founded in 1906 for athlete safety, had known about impacts from head injuries since the 1930s but failed to educate players, ban headfirst contact, or implement baseline testing for concussion symptoms.

The NCAA said the case hinged on what it knew at the time Gee played, from 1988 to 1992, and not about CTE, which was first discovered in the brain of a deceased NFL player in 2005. Gee never reported having a concussion and said in an application to play with the Raiders after graduating that he'd never been knocked unconscious, NCAA attorney Will Stute said. "You can't hold the NCAA responsible for something 40 years later that nobody ever reported," Stute said in his closing argument. "The plaintiffs want you in a time travel machine. We don't have one ... at the NCAA." Alana Gee had tears in her eyes and sniffled as the verdict was read. She told one of her lawyers that she didn't understand how the jury came to that decision. "We feel deep sympathy for the Gee family," Stute said afterward. "But we feel like this verdict is a vindication of the position we've taken in all these cases." (Read more football stories.)

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