Former University of Oregon offensive lineman Doug Brenner is suing the school, former head football coach Willie Taggart, former strength and conditioning coach Irele Oderinde and the NCAA for negligence to the tune of $11.5 million, according to The Oregonian.
At issue is a nasty condition called rhabdomyolysis.
Typing “define rhabdomyolysis” into Google yields “the destruction of muscle cells, especially in horses.” It comes from the Greek “rhabdo” (rod), “myo” (muscle), and “lysis” (destruction, as also seen in “hydrolysis”, “paralysis” and plenty of other such words.)
The condition is caused in humans by excessive workouts, where muscle cells are torn apart to the point where muscle fibers get into the bloodstream and make their way to the kidneys.
Trouble is, the kidneys weren’t made to handle this, so it can lead to renal failure and even, in rare cases, death.
Brenner and Ducks teammates Sam Poutasi and Cam McCormick were hospitalized in January 2017 after the team’s workouts, and all three ended up with the same diagnosis, The Oregonian reported.
The workouts that caused the rhabdomyolysis in the three players happened after Taggart was named head coach, the report said.
The lawsuit describes Taggart’s insistence on creating “military-style” workouts, with “up to an hour of continuous push-ups and up-downs.”
Whenever someone made a mistake, the workout turned into “let’s take it from the top” and went on for far longer than the intended duration of the exercises, according to the lawsuit.
Furthermore, and this is where the case for negligence gets a lot stronger, “The drills were done in unison, and whenever a player faltered, vomited, or fainted, his teammates were immediately punished with additional repetitions.”
That quote is from lawyer Mark McDougal, whose statement continued, “A key goal of this lawsuit is to force the NCAA to ban these kinds of punishing, abusive workouts. These workouts are contrary to NCAA guidelines for protecting players from injury and death. The NCAA needs to enact and enforce regulations that outlaw these practices.”
Still, the military does put recruits through grueling workouts all day long in basic training, and their recruits aren’t regularly hospitalized with their kidneys gummed up with muscle tissue, so there must be something more to the problem.
The missing link is found in the fact that rhabdomyolysis can be prevented if the kidneys have enough water to flush out the excess protein.
Brenner’s lawsuit contends that sufficient water wasn’t made available to the players, or if it was available in theory to comply with the rules governing player safety, the players themselves weren’t allowed to stop and drink it.
The lawsuit suggests the football and strength coaches were either reckless or staggeringly ignorant of the basic tenets of sports medicine.
“Taggart and Oderinde knew of the type of severe consequences that could result from the exercise drill and knowingly conducted the exercise drill with conscious disregard to the detrimental health consequences for the students,” the suit claims. “Alternatively, if defendant Oderinde was not aware of the consequences of the exercise drills, he was wholly incompetent to have been hired to perform a job as a strength and conditioning coach for a college football team.”
Taggart left Oregon in 2017 to coach at Florida State; he brought Oderinde with him to Tallahassee.
The lawsuit also named the NCAA as a co-defendant, saying the governing body failed to enforce its own rules and created an environment where players were at needless risk.
According to the suit, Taggart and Oderinde “knew or had reason to know, or knew and did not care that the football players would be at their weakest condition following the winter break transition period. Because the NCAA did not enforce such guidelines, the coaching defendants did not care that the workout violated NCAA guidelines for protecting student athletes from severe over-exertion injuries such as death and rhabdomyolysis. The workouts took place every morning on four consecutive days.”
“Had reason to know” is key here, because even if two men who are supposed to know how to train and coach athletes somehow completely failed to understand what was required of them, their job title and description voids that as a defense against negligence.
And while it was after the fact for this lawsuit, the chief medical officer for the NCAA, Brian Hainline, did in 2018 issue guidelines explicitly designed to prevent rhabdomyolysis.
The University of Oregon issued a statement in response to the suit, or perhaps more accurately issued a non-statement.
“The well-being and safety of our students are our top priorities at the University of Oregon. We have been advised of the litigation filed today but have not been served a copy of the complaint, at which point we will respond appropriately in the court proceedings. In light of the pending litigation, we don’t have any additional comment at this time.”
Brenner’s $11.5 million suit seeks damages for “severe injuries, some of which are permanent, permanent renal injury, a shortening of his life span by upwards of 10 years, increased susceptibility of kidney failure, kidney disease, and death, severe physical and emotional pain, (and premature death) and an impaired opportunity to play football in college and thereafter.”
In addition to the medical damages, Brenner is also hoping to do good for those who come after him in playing college football.
“Nothing would make me happier than to have this case save other football players from serious injury,” he said, according to The Oregonian.
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