Football

Take 2: Concussion lawsuit against IHSA to have deep impact

Harvard senior Joe Quinn reaches for the ball during football practice Aug. 11. On Sept. 5, 
Quinn  left the game against Winnebago because of a concussion. He was in as a defensive back, and when he went to make a tackle on the Indians’ tight end, he lowered his head and was run over.
Harvard senior Joe Quinn reaches for the ball during football practice Aug. 11. On Sept. 5, Quinn left the game against Winnebago because of a concussion. He was in as a defensive back, and when he went to make a tackle on the Indians’ tight end, he lowered his head and was run over.

This month, former Notre Dame College Prep football player Daniel Bukal filed a class-action lawsuit against the Illinois High School Association over concussions protocol and management. Sports editor Jon Styf and sports reporter Mike DeFabo discuss.  

DeFabo: If you haven't been following this lawsuit,  you definitely should be. To sum it up briefly, the suit alleges the IHSA "does not mandate specific guidelines or rules on managing student-athlete concussions and head injuries and fails to mandate the removal of athletes who have appeared to suffer in practice." The interesting aspect about this lawsuit is that Bukal, a 29-year-old former player who says he still experiences dizziness and headaches, doesn't seek damages like some of the NFL suits. He's not trying to cash in, but just wants baseline testing and medical staff with concussion training at games. What are your views?   

Styf: First of all, you're way off if you think the NFL suits are about "trying to cash in." Former players want to be able to pay for medical treatment related to a multitude of ailments from their playing days. Beyond that, on the high school level, something needs to be done. If you're going to have kids playing dangerous sports like that, you need someone on the sideline who can handle a head injury situation (i.e. medical staff) and they need to have the right data (i.e. baseline test) to do it the right way. If youth football leagues can mandate it, why is the IHSA so hesitant? It's about money. The IHSA said that handling it in the courts isn't the best course of action, but how many other times have they said that while they were being sued over policy? The organizations and their members don't want to be told how to run their schools and teams. But, there is a real head injury issue both here and throughout the country in all sports. The time has come to deal with that appropriately. 

DeFabo: IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman said in a news conference that if the lawsuit is successful it could "eliminate some programs in Illinois." He essentially said football will only exist in the wealthy school districts. I'm not buying that argument. Bukal's attorney, Joseph J. Siprut, had the perfect response in Joey Kaufman's story earlier this week. "The IHSA’s claim that our firm’s concussion class action could result in the demise of high school football, or create a system of “haves, have nots” (those that have football and those that don’t) is a cheap and cowardly tactic designed to engender opposition to the lawsuit," Siprut wrote. "Put simply, the IHSA is trying to pass off this logic: 'If you like football, then you should oppose this lawsuit!' They might as well have said: 'If you like cute puppies, then you should oppose this lawsuit!'"

Styf: If you like your kids, you should like this lawsuit. It's one thing to choose football as a profession, knowing the risks, and play in the NFL. It's a completely different thing to be a high school player and head back onto the field after a concussion and risk your life for the game because no one was there to check you out properly after a hit. This isn't a perfect solution, no solution can make football completely safe. But it's about limiting the risk, which is largest when a first concussion isn't diagnosed. As USA Today pointed out in November, eight high school football players died last year in injuries directly related to football. That's real. And the point of that story is, why does it happen in high school and not in college and the NFL? One explanation is that there are a ton more high school games than those on higher levels. Another explanation could be that there is much closer management of head injuries on the higher levels.

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