Penn State Football

2 former Penn State players file concussion lawsuit against NCAA, university

Two former Penn State football players have filed a lawsuit against the NCAA, the Big Ten conference and the university.
Two former Penn State football players have filed a lawsuit against the NCAA, the Big Ten conference and the university. Centre Daily Times, file

Two former Penn State football players are suing the NCAA, the Big Ten conference and the university itself, their legal representation confirmed on Tuesday.

According to court documents, Robert Samuels, a former defensive back who played for Penn State from 1988-89, and Eric Ravotti, a linebacker from 1990-94, allege that they suffer with “deficits in cognitive functioning” as a result of one or more concussions suffered while playing for the Nittany Lions.

James Boyd, a safety from 1997-2001, was originally also a lead plaintiff in the lawsuit according to court documents obtained by the Centre Daily Times on Tuesday afternoon. Boyd withdrew his name as a lead plaintiff, according to representation for the law firm handling the suit, Edelson PC.

“He is supportive of the suit, but he is no longer going to be participating as a lead named plaintiff in the suit,” said a spokesperson for the firm on Tuesday evening, adding that Boyd could “still very well join (the suit)” and “could make claims going forward, but his name will not be on the lawsuit going forward.”

Boyd issued a statement that said he did not support the lawsuit, however.

“I have requested that my name be removed from a class-action lawsuit filed recently against Penn State, the Big Ten conference and the NCAA by a Chicago attorney,” he said in a statement. “When I was contacted about joining this action, I was not made aware that either Penn State or the Big Ten conference would be a party to the suit and neither was named in the paperwork that I signed. I did not intend, and do not support, inclusion of the university in this suit.

“As a former athlete, I am keenly aware of the evidence of long-term damage from concussions and generally support ongoing research and investigation of the subject. I do not wish to have my Penn State football experience characterized as anything other than first class. The coaching, medical and administrative support I received during my career as a PSU athlete reflected the very highest standards of collegiate athletes. To describe it as anything else, would be incorrect and misleading. I will continue to monitor and study concussive effects of football but will not be a party to this action against Penn State, which was instrumental in my development as an athlete and a person.”

The lawsuit is a part of six separate class-action suits that state the NCAA, the conference and, in the case of Samuels and Ravotti, the university itself were negligent in regard to how the players’ concussions were addressed when they were members of the Penn State football team.

Former players at Auburn, Utah, Oregon, Georgia and Vanderbilt have also filed class-action suits.

“When you look at it from a college perspective, it is really sad how the universities benefited so much, profited so much from these student-athletes and then abandoned them,” said Jay Edelson, a Chicago attorney and founder of Edelson PC who is leading the current litigation.

Learn exactly what a concussion is and why it is so important to allow your brain to fully recover. Traumatic brain injuries contribute to "a substantial number of deaths and cases of permanent disability" each year, according to the CDC. In 2010,

When you look at it from a college perspective, it is really sad how the universities benefited so much, profited so much from these student-athletes and then abandoned them.

Jay Edelson, Chicago attorney representing the civil-action suit of two former Penn State football players

Edelson’s lawsuits are unique because they focus on personal injury to players as opposed to prior cases that have had concussion testing and protocol as their main area of concentration. The NCAA is currently settling a $75 million settlement from a separate concussion-related suit.

“(The other cases) are fine, but that doesn’t really do anything to compensate people involved,” he said.

Edelson added that he is expecting “dozens more” suits to be filed in the coming weeks and months. According to a CBS Sports report, this “first wave” of lawsuits “tries to include groups of ex-players at individual schools going back 50 to 60 years until 2010.”

The NCAA ruled in 2010 that schools are required to have a system in place for concussion management and “return-to-play” protocols.

Edelson, however, is working for players’ personal compensation and outreach by universities.

“Penn State was taking 17-year-old boys and saying, ‘Come to one of the most prestigious universities in the world, one of the best football programs in the world,’ ” he said. “And when they did that, and were making huge amounts of riches off them, they had a duty to keep them safe.

“What we think we are going to be able to demonstrate is that Penn State turned a blind eye to the health of its players. It really just ruined many, many lives. So we’re hoping Penn State steps up to the plate and realizes that you can’t do that in America. You can’t make so much money off of these kids and then leave them with their lives in shambles.”

Penn State football currently partners with Head Health Network, a subscription-based service that provides concussion testing and monitoring. According to Penn State, HHN placed sensors inside a group of football helmets last season. The Centre Daily Times reached out to head football athletic trainer Tim Bream in the fall for more information about HHN and its procedures, but received no response.

When asked about the equipment after a fall practice, head coach James Franklin said he supported the research, but did not have enough information to comment.

Last month at the APSE Regional conference, Athletic Director Sandy Barbour was asked about concussion testing and research, as well as about mental health outreach for student-athletes.

“That’s been well underway for several years,” she said. “We have some great research going on on our own campus as well as some partnerships with both other universities and some industry folks in terms of measurement and those kinds of things. And obviously we were full proponents of what the Big Ten did a year ago in terms of the independent spotting.”

“We have not yet reviewed the complaint and thus do not have a comment at this time,” Penn State Athletics said Tuesday.

Jourdan Rodrigue: 814-231-4629, @JourdanRodrigue