UCF Verdict Raises Public Awareness of Preventable Disaster

by Jeffrey A. Leikin | July 7th, 2011

It was with great interest that I read Maybe all of college football should have been put on trial.  The story was about the 10 million dollar jury verdict against the University of Central Florida (UCF) late last week. This verdict was in favor of the family of a former player who died in 2008 during off season conditioning practice.  The death was alleged to be from complications from Sickle Cell Trait, a condition that UCF knew was a prior issue with the athlete. In fact, Sickle Cell Trait (a genetic disorder) is a fairly common medical complication that falls just short of Sickle Cell Disease, facing many student athletes – and one in which athletic programs across the country have successfully fought with precautionary rules for these inflicted athletes.  Precautions can include easing the athlete into more strenuous work outs and monitoring to insure that the athlete is well hydrated during practices.  A screening blood test cost about $5 to the University.

In a recent NY Times article it was reported that 21 college athletes collapsed and died as a result of training over the past decade and at least 8 of these deaths were carriers of the Sickle Cell Trait.

This verdict reminds us of an overwhelming issue in college sports, one which tends to be lost within the hype of NCAA investigations and sanctions.  Some athletic programs and coaches seem to be lost in an archaic world of the “no pain, no gain” golden rule without considering the well being of the athlete or taking advantage of the advances in modern medicine that permit a whole new wealth of knowledge on how to prevent the very incident that occurred at UCF.  It seems Coach O’Leary at UCF fit into that category when many former players testified and described his lengthy and hard work outs during trial.

While the sale of sports memorabilia by recent The Ohio State University athletes violated the NCAA rules – why are issues like the one presented in this case not getting more attention and more regulation? As reported in the NY Times, a vote last year was passed by the NCAA to make testing for the Sickle Cell Trait mandatory in Division I schools – but no mandatory policies were established once the athlete was determined to have this potentially deadly trait. As a result no sanctions were placed against the Universities for not taking the necessary precautions to protect these athletes. So why are sever sanctions being consider against The Ohio State University and others for a few athletes pawning off there sports rewards and nothing being considered against UCF in this situation involving the death of a student athlete? Where are the NCAA priorities headed?

Needless to say that this jury award, if upheld, will financially cripple the UCF football program.  But NCAA we need to get our priorities straight.  The NCAA could be the force that sets the example for protecting the student athlete at all levels, from pee wee ball, through high school, all the way up to the professional level.  NCAA, lets get our priorities straight. Lets use this case to promote universal rules to protect the safety and well being of the student athlete.  Don’t let this opportunity pass by without action!

We as Lawyers must keep up the pressure. We need to pursue more cases like this UCF case in order to raise public awareness of this very preventable disaster.

Authored by Attorney Jeffrey A. Leikin