LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles jury on Tuesday dismissed a claim by the widow of a former USC football player who said the NCAA failed to protect him from repeated head injuries that led to his death.
Matthew Gee, a linebacker on the 1990 Rose Bowl-winning team, suffered about 6,000 strokes that caused permanent brain damage and led to cocaine and alcohol abuse that ultimately killed him at age 49, they said his widow’s lawyers.
The NCAA said it had nothing to do with Gee’s death, which it said was caused by sudden cardiac arrest caused by untreated high blood pressure and acute cocaine toxicity. An attorney for the U.S. college sports governing body said Gee suffered from several other non-football-related health issues, such as cirrhosis of the liver, that would eventually kill him.
The verdict could have far-reaching ramifications for college athletes who blame the NCAA for head injuries.
Hundreds of wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits have been filed by college football players against the NCAA over the past decade, but Gee’s is the first to reach a jury claiming that the blows to the head led to chronic traumatic encephalopathy , a degenerative brain disease known by its acronym, CTE.
“We are pleased that the jury, after considering four weeks of evidence and testimony, has overwhelmingly agreed with our position in this case,” NCAA senior vice president of legal affairs and general counsel Scott Bearby said in a statement. . “The NCAA bears no responsibility for Mr. Gee’s tragic death, and furthermore, the case has not been supported by the medical science linking Mr. Gee’s death to his college football career. We express our deepest condolences to the family of the Mr. Gee”.
The statement also said the organization “will continue to aggressively defend itself against cases like this that unfairly attempt to exploit the legal system to unfairly target the NCAA.”
Alana Gee had testified that the college sweethearts had a good 20 years of marriage before her husband’s mental health began to deteriorate and he became angry, depressed and impulsive, and he began overeating and abusing drugs and alcohol.
Gee’s lawyers said CTE, which is found in athletes and military veterans who have sustained repetitive brain injuries, was an indirect cause of death because head trauma has been shown to promote substance abuse.
The NCAA said the case stemmed from what it knew at the time Gee played, from 1988 to ’92, and not from CTE, which was first discovered in the brain of a deceased NFL player in 2005.
Gee never reported having a concussion and said in an application to play for the Raiders after graduation that he had never fainted, NCAA attorney Will Stute said.
“You can’t hold the NCAA accountable for something that 40 years later no one has ever reported,” Stute said in his closing argument. “The plaintiffs want you in a time travel machine. We don’t have one at the NCAA. That’s not fair.” .”
Lawyers for Gee’s family said there was no question that Matt Gee suffered concussions and countless sub-concussive blows.
Mike Salmon, a teammate who went on to play in the NFL, tested that Gee, who was team captain his senior year, was once so dazed from a hit that he couldn’t call the next play.
Gee was one of five linebackers on the 1989 Trojans team who died before turning 50. All showed signs of mental deterioration associated with head trauma.
As with teammate and NFL star Junior Seau, who committed suicide in 2012, Gee’s brain was examined posthumously at Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center and found to have CTE.
Jurors were not allowed to hear testimony about Gee’s deceased teammates.
Alana Gee’s lawyers had argued that the NCAA, founded in 1906 for the safety of athletes, had known about impacts from head injuries since the 1930s but failed to educate players, ban head-on contact or implement baseline testing for concussion symptoms.
His lawyers had asked jurors to award $55 million to compensate for his loss.
Alana Gee had tears in her eyes and sniffled as the verdict was read. She told one of her attorneys that she didn’t understand how the jury arrived at that decision and she declined to comment afterward.
“We have had deep sympathy for the Gee family from the beginning,” Stute, the NCAA attorney, later said, “but we feel this verdict is a vindication of the position we have taken in all of these cases.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.