Widow of Late USC Linebacker Faces Off Against NCAA in “Landmark” Concussion Trial
The widow of a former University of Southern California football player will present what may be a historic case before a Los Angeles jury on Friday. She is suing the NCAA for failing to safeguard her husband from repeated head injuries.
According to the wrongful death lawsuit Alana Gee filed, Matthew Gee passed away in 2018 as a result of severe brain damage brought on by the several blows to the head he received while playing linebacker for the 1990 Rose Bowl-winning squad.
Gee’s is only the second claim to go to trial, out of the hundreds that college football players have filed against the NCAA in the previous ten years, alleging that head injuries caused chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain condition. It might be the first case to go before a jury.
The complaint claimed that the NCAA had concealed an epidemic that was slowly murdering college athletes from both players like Matthew Gee and the general public for years. They continue to suffer from a number of neurological diseases that could eventually suffocate their brains years after playing their final game.
Gee’s death was attributed to binge drinking, drug use, and other health issues, according to the NCAA, which oversees college athletics in the United States.
“Mr. Gee used alcohol and drugs to cope with a traumatic childhood, to fill in the loss of identity he felt after his football playing days ended, and to numb the chronic and increasing pain caused by numerous health issues,” the NCAA’s attorneys claimed in a document filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.
With increased knowledge regarding the long-term repercussions of recurrent head trauma in conditions ranging from headaches to depression and, occasionally, early onset Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease, the topic of concussions in sports, and football, in particular, has come to the forefront in recent years.
After many days of testimony from witnesses for the widow of Greg Ploetz, who played defense for Texas in the late 1960s, in a 2018 trial in Texas, the case was quickly settled. The NCAA consented to settle a class-action concussion lawsuit in 2016, paying $70 million to track the medical status of former collegiate athletes, $5 million for medical research, and payments of up to $5,000 to specific players who claimed ailments.
A settlement covering 20,000 former players and providing up to $4 million for a death involving CTE, which is found in athletes and military veterans who experienced repetitive brain trauma, was eventually reached after the NFL conceded to similar lawsuits. Over a 65-year period, compensation for the six qualifying conditions is anticipated to surpass $1.4 billion.
After years of denial, the NFL finally admitted in 2016 that there was a connection between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which causes memory loss, depression, and progressive dementia. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association states that the institute has discovered CTE in the brains of 48 out of 53 former college athletes and 110 out of 111 deceased former NFL players.
Ken Stabler, Mike Webster, and Junior Seau, a colleague of Gee’s at USC, are among the Hall of Famers who received a diagnosis after passing away. Five linebackers from the 1989 Trojans team died before the age of 50, including 49-year-old Gee. Similar to Seau, who committed suicide in 2012, Gee’s brain was analyzed after his death at BU, and CTE was discovered.
The NCAA ruled there was no medical proof Gee had sustained concussions while playing for USC, and the defense has attempted to have any testimony against Gee’s teammates excluded. However, during depositions, two former colleagues spoke about the punches they frequently received at a time when they were instructed to strike with their heads.
Mike Salmon, who later played for the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers in the NFL, recalls Gee and other linebackers being “out of it” after intense training. Salmon remarked, “Matt hit like a truck.” “I noticed him returning to the group quite a bit. He wasn’t entirely present, as you could tell.
Gene Fruge, a former nose tackle, stated in court that it was his responsibility to make helmet-to-helmet contact in the 1980s. “There was no doubt at all. It was your responsibility to blow up the person in front of you.
The NCAA claimed that at the time Gee played, the long-term effects of head injuries weren’t fully understood. The NCAA mandated concussion protocols for colleges in 2010. According to Gee’s lawsuit, studies of “punch drunk” boxers and later research in football and other contact sports have shown that concussions and other traumatic brain hits have crippling effects for roughly a century.
The lawsuit claimed that “the NCAA knew of the negative impacts… on athletes for decades, they ignored these facts, and they failed to implement any significant ways of warning and/or safeguarding the athletes.” The NCAA found collegiate football to be simply too profitable to jeopardize its continuing growth and operation.
Gee was team captain his senior year and led USC in tackles, forced fumbles, and recovered fumbles.
Gee was released by the Los Angeles Raiders during training camp in 1992 after graduating. As he managed his own insurance company in Southern California, he married Alana, his college sweetheart, and the two eventually had three children. He led a “relatively normal” existence for 20 years, according to the lawsuit.
That changed around 2013, according to the lawsuit, when he started to lose emotional control. He felt frustrated, perplexed, and enraged. He drank a lot. He admitted to a doctor that days would pass before he could remember what had transpired.
The tentative cause of death for his death on New Year’s Eve 2018 was given as the toxic consequences of alcohol and cocaine combined with other serious diseases like cardiovascular disease, cirrhosis, and obesity.
Drug and alcohol misuse can emerge as a sign of brain injuries when those who suffer try to self-medicate, according to Joseph Low, a Los Angeles attorney who represents clients with traumatic brain injury but is not involved in the case. According to Low, blaming Gee’s death on substance usage will not protect the NCAA from the proof that he had CTE, which is not brought on by drugs and alcohol.
That’s a diversion, said Low. “That method of character assassination is just terrible. Defense tactic 101 is what it is.