The family members of four former college football players have filed wrongful death lawsuits against the NCAA on Monday.
According to ESPN, the lawsuits allege brain disease caused by on-field concussions led to the premature deaths of former Grand Valley State University quarterback Cullen Finnerty, former San Diego State linebacker Jeff Staggs (1965-66), former UCLA and Long Beach State running back Rodney Stensrud (1969-73) and former USC fullback Doug MacKenzie (1977-81).
In a lawsuit filed by Jennifer Finnerty, her husband was “knocked unconscious and suffered multiple concussions and/or subconcussive impacts to the head during games and/or practice” while playing at Grand Valley State University. At age 30, Finnerty, who went on to become the winningest quarterback in NCAA history with a 51-4 record, went missing during a family fishing trip in Michigan in May 2013. Three days later he was found dead in the woods.
The lawsuit states, Finnerty became “confused and anxious, calling his wife stating that he was being followed by two men and was getting out of the water.”
“This call was unfortunately reminiscent of an earlier incident he had,” the lawsuit says. “Mr. Finnerty was out with co-workers in Detroit, Michigan, when he began to believe he was being followed. In about of paranoia, Mr. Finnerty drove 150 miles to his brother’s house. When he arrived, there was nobody behind him.”
An autopsy later determined that Finnerty died of “pneumonia caused by inhaling his vomit after he became disoriented.” The medical examiner’s report also adds it’s possible Finnerty “had anxiety, disorientation, and paranoia from being alone in the woods while waiting for in-laws to pick him up.”
For the mother of former USC fullback Doug MacKenzie, she hopes the lawsuits will “make a difference” in the lives of future student-athletes.
“Our family has filed this lawsuit against the NCAA to make a difference,” Dorothy MacKenzie-Schmidt, said in a statement to ESPN. “Too many football players have gone on to develop brain disease, including my son Doug, and the time for change has come. We want football to be as safe as it can be, and we want student-athletes to be aware of the terrible consequences that concussions early on can have throughout their lives.”
According to the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Jay Edelson, the goal is to take the lawsuits to trial.
“Our goal is to take these to trial,” Edelson said to the Los Angeles Times. “Our clients want to get in front of a jury. We think a jury is going to act very favorably to the stories that they have, and we want to get there as soon as we can.”