NCAA to pay for concussion screening; time for personal relief

Written By BY RICK TELANDER Sports Columnist Posted: 07/29/2014, 04:28pm

You might remember a column I wrote a couple of years ago about my visit with former Eastern Illinois defensive back Adrian Arrington.

Arrington was a hard-hitting safety and team captain for the Panthers who suffered several concussions but continued playing, one time even staggering to the sideline during a game, barely able to walk, then returning to the field a short time later. It happened, though he remembers none of it. We met at his rented apartment in Bloomington, Illinois, where he lived with his girlfriend, their two children and a stepson. He was only 26 but was unable to hold a job, suffering from numerous cognitive issues, including memory loss, headaches and seizures.

Arrington had found Chicago personal-injury attorney Joseph Siprut to represent him in a lawsuit against the NCAA in 2011, alleging improper medical care and a general lack of understanding of and testing for sports brain trauma at member schools.

Not to mention a failure to warn players about the dangers of concussions.

In time, the lawsuit would become a class-action suit, as other injured athletes and attorneys filed similar claims. The case lurched onward, but it seemingly was resolved abruptly Monday afternoon and was made official Tuesday with a motion for preliminary approval of the settlement presented to a Chicago judge. The amount agreed upon? Seventy-five million dollars.

Siprut gets his hefty contingency fee, of course, and there have been many expenses up and down the line, but the attorney expects there to be at least $55 million in the pot for concussion screening, medical monitoring and concussion-awareness programs throughout all NCAA schools.

‘‘It’s not enough for medical care, only screening,’’ Siprut said. ‘‘But we have a signed agreement, the parties have agreed, and the NCAA is going to be required to do these things. It’s the first time ever they’ve had to have [uniform] concussion protocol. It’s something they should have done decades ago.’’

If the NFL gave up more than $750 million to its brain-damaged players, why is the NCAA getting off so lightly? Especially because the agreement covers all sports, male and female.

‘‘It’s as much as we could have gotten at trial for class action,’’ Siprut explained. ‘‘Now there will be individual claims, lawsuits, whatever, against the NCAA. But this seemingly never-ending process, almost out of nowhere, is now up for approval. A couple of months from now, we’ll likely have the final approval. But this right now is, by far, the most important part.’’

Siprut fired his cannon over the NCAA’s bow three years ago when he wrote in the initial suit: ‘‘For over 30 years, the NCAA has failed its student-athletes — choosing instead to sacrifice them on the altar of money and profits . . . .’’

This is good for all NCAA jocks, from the elite Division I moneymakers to the marginally talented at the smallest schools under the umbrella. Oh, and don’t be worried about this ruining the NCAA, Siprut said.

‘‘They have plenty of money,’’ he said.

After all this time, he should know.

Now it’s time for the wounded former college safety to get some personal relief.

‘‘Once this is concluded, we’ll call the NCAA and say, ‘Now we need some money for Adrian,’ ’’ Siprut said. ‘‘My hope is we can come to that resolution without a trial.’’

The NCAA, if it has a heart and a brain, should hope so, too.

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