Daniel Kaplan from The Athletic and Michael Rosenberg from Sports Illustrated reports that Alana Gee, the widow of former University of Southern California (USC) Trojan linebacker from 1988-1991 Matt Gee, is suing the NCAA for his wrongful death. She believes the onset of CTE, as a result from playing football, caused her husband to act differently in his waning years before his death. She is bringing a wrongful death lawsuit to prove had Matthew Gee not played football for USC and the NCAA, he would not have lashed out and changed behaviors after his football career was over.
In 1989, the USC Trojans had twelve linebackers on its roster. Five would die all before turning fifty years old. The most notable linebacker from this Trojan team is Junior Seau, who was an All-Pro linebacker with the then-San Diego Chargers and the New England Patriots. He committed suicide in 2012, and doctors found he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is only found in the brain post-mortem, so after death. Alan Wilson, Scott Ross, David Webb, and lastly, Alana’s late husband, Matt Gee. Rosenberg dives into each person as their body turned against them before dying young. There are stories from each player’s life, and how similar the downward trends began. Alana Gee plans to use this story as evidence that her husband’s death is due to the NCAA not properly monitoring their football players at the scrutiny they are today.
Alana Gee plans to have Dr. Bennett Omalu, the first doctor to diagnose CTE in a football player’s brain, testify as an expert witness should this case proceed to trial. The NCAA argues that an individual understands the risks of football before they participate in the sport. They argue there are known inherent risks such as injury. She counters that CTE is not an inherent risk, but one the NCAA should warn players about. The NCAA has implemented new rule changes after CTE was discovered, such as targeting, to crack down on head injuries suffered from playing football.
The NCAA argues that Matt Gee suffered from alcoholism, obesity, diabetes, and other illnesses prior to his passing on New Year’s Eve, 2018. They argue Matt did not suffer from CTE at all, perhaps it was a different type of encephalopathy. He suffered from liver disease due to his alcoholism and drug use. He suffered from hypertensive and atherosclerotic heart issues. The NCAA argues these caused his death, not CTE, so they should not be held liable to Alana Gee in her wrongful death lawsuit against them. They argue their member schools, here USC, are responsible for the safety and well-being of their student-athletes.
There is legal precedent as an NCAA CTE case from Texas settled in 2019, and there is another one in Indiana arguing the NCAA knew that football caused these injuries. They argue the NCAA did nothing until CTE was discovered to further protect their football players from the lasting effect of concussions and other head injuries. Other cases, such as one in California, was dismissed because science could not link former Pop Warner football players’ death to the league.
The NCAA is seeking to block evidence, such as the Rosenberg article, and other media related to the 1989 USC team because this media could be damaging to their cause since five linebackers from that team died before turning fifty. They all died from their own downward spirals, whether it was suicide or binge drinking. The common theme all five linebackers had were that they suffered from mental illnesses shortly before death. This is likely CTE symptoms, but tests were not done on all five brains. Junior Seau is the only confirmed player that suffered from CTE after researchers studied his brain after his suicide in 2012.
The merits of Alana Gee’s case are not frivolous, so this case should not get dismissed. However, if this case is brought to trial, and found in her favor, this could open Pandora’s Box to all those who passed away young or “before their time” after they participated in contact sports.
Alex Patterson is a Thomas M. Cooley Law School graduate and works for Kerley and Talken PC as a paralegal. He played football for seventeen years as an offensive and defensive lineman. He graduated from Lindenwood University-Belleville in 2018 with a Bachelor’s in Sports Management. He can be followed on Twitter @alpatt71.