ILLINOIS — In his senior year, Adrian Arrington was hit so hard during a football game that he stumbled sideways to the sideline. A few minutes later, his coach was ready to put him back in the game that Eastern Illinois was playing against Austin Peay.
Arrington’s dad, who knew his son was already suffering weekly seizures, migraines and blackouts from previous concussions on the field, ran down from the stands, confronting the football staff on the bench.
Arrington’s friends later told him that his dad screamed, “He’s not going back in the game! He’s had too many concussions! He’s done playing football!”
That 2009 game was Arrington’s last.
He later became a lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the NCAA — a lawsuit that the two sides agreed to settle Tuesday.
If a federal judge accepts Tuesday’s settlement, submitted to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, coaches would be prohibited from doing what they almost did to Arrington.
The deal would force the NCAA to change the way teams handle players who suffer head injuries and would prevent an athlete with a concussion from returning to play the same day.
A 2010 NCAA survey of collegiate sport trainers found that half of trainers returned athletes to the same game in which they were concussed.
“It will change college sports forever, and that is really the goal,” said Joseph Siprut, Arrington’s attorney.
The settlement also includes $70 million for screening for athletes who suspect brain injuries, and $5 million for research.
Plaintiffs like Arrington will continue to pursue their personal injury claims against the NCAA in court. That part was not settled.
Arrington’s class-action suit now includes almost 30 athletes from many universities and several contact sports. Some of them played as far back as the 1970s.
All of them have stories like his — they all suffer the long-term effects of head injuries, and all fear what their future might hold.
Arrington, who is 28, hasn’t been able to hold a job since he graduated.
Regulations proposed in the settlement include the following, none of which is currently mandated:
• Streamlined testing, which is inconsistent at universities.
• No same-day return to play.
• A requirement for contact sports to have medical staff with concussion training at games.
• Concussion tracking, and mandated reporting to the NCAA.
• Concussion education for athletes.
• The establishment of a concussion-related research fund.
The lawsuit is a consolidation of 13 different suits, all filed in federal court.
Most of the plaintiffs are football players. A few played soccer, and a few are wrestlers.
“Somehow we’ve gotten to a point, the NCAA, charged with representing interests of players, has left them flapping in the wind,” Siprut said. The NCAA was created in 1905 by President Theodore Roosevelt, who was concerned about the safety of football and wanted an organization to make it safer.
Judge John Lee still has to approve the settlement, which could happen in the next few months, possibly before the end of the 2014-15 football season.