Family of man diagnosed with CTE who played for SMU in 1950s sues NCAA for $1 million

John Davis played at SMU from 1955-59. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

The family of a man who played football for SMU from 1955-59 has sued the NCAA for negligence regarding head injuries.

John Davis, now deceased, was a lineman at SMU. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2001 according to the family and was posthumously diagnosed with stage 4 CTE in 2017. Per the lawsuit, Davis’ family said he suffered headaches after his playing career was over and had multiple concussions while playing college football.

The suit, which asks for $1 million in damages and a jury trial, does not name SMU and says that the NCAA’s negligence and its lack of rules regarding head injuries and the use of players’ heads while playing “were a proximate cause of John Thomas Davis’ Alzheimer’s disease and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.” John Thomas Davis’ injuries were so severe that his wife, Karol Hargis Davis, struggled to care for him.”.

It also says that the NCAA knew about the severity of concussions long before Davis’ playing career began From the suit, which you can read in full here:

“In 1933, the NCAA’s medical handbook for schools and colleges recommended that players with concussions should receive rest and constant supervision and not be permitted to play or practice until symptom-free for 48 hours,” the suit says. “For symptoms lasting longer than 48 hours, it recommended players ‘not be permitted to compete for 21 days or longer, if at all.’ Additionally, it stated ‘there is definitely a condition described as ‘punch drunk’ and often recurrent concussion cases in football and boxing demonstrate this. Any individual who is knocked unconscious repeatedly on slight provocation should be forbidden to play body-contact sport.’”

Both SMU and the NCAA declined comment to the Dallas Morning News.

Previous concussion-related suits

The suit by the Davis family is not the first levied against the NCAA on behalf of a former player who suffered concussions during his playing career. In 2018, the NCAA settled a suit regarding Texas OL Greg Ploetz. He was a member of Texas’ 1969 national title team and his wife Karen Hardin-Ploetz said the NCAA was responsible for the head injuries he suffered. 

Like Davis, researchers at Boston University posthumously found that Ploetz had CTE. The degenerative brain disease has been linked to repeated head trauma and can only be discovered after death. Ploetz’s widow was seeking over $1 million in damages. As part of the settlement with Ploetz, the NCAA did not admit that it was liable. The firm representing Davis’ family is the same firm that represented Ploetz’s wife.

The NCAA announced in 2014 that it had started a fund to help diagnose and research traumatic head injuries suffered by college athletes. That announcement came after the NCAA had settled a class-action case regarding concussions.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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