Greg Ploetz played football for the University of Texas. And won a national championship with the Longhorns in 1969. He was also named to the All-Southwest Conference team as a defensive tackle. He spent the rest of his life teaching, creating art, and raising a family until he died in May 2015. Tests on his brain revealed Stage 4 Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy – better known as CTE. It’s a degenerative brain disease that’s been linked to those who have experience repeated head trauma, such as football players.
Ploetz’s widow, Debra Hardin-Ploetz, claims that the National Collegiate Athletic Association did not do enough to prevent her husband from developing CTE. The lawsuit is the first of its kind to make it to trial, and could have broad ramifications for the future of college sports.
Michael McCann is the director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a legal analyst for Sports Illustrated. He says Hardin-Ploetz is suing the NCAA for negligence and wrongful death.
“She’s arguing that the NCAA had a duty to protect her husband when he played college football,” he says, “And that duty included warning him about the health risks of playing – specifically the neurological risks – and creating…game safety rules that would diminish the risk he incurred, and that the NCAA failed in those duties.”
McCann says there was evidence that head injuries could lead to neurological problems. He also says the NCAA was founded to “keep college athletes safe.” However, the link between CTE and playing football is less clear.
“Certainly, the attorneys for Hardin-Ploetz believes the NCAA will be shown to have known about a pretty serious neurological risk and that they didn’t adequately warn players,” he says, “…If the NCAA knew about certain risks that weren’t so obvious or that were worse than one would assume – did it have a duty to share them?”
He says if Hardin-Ploetz wins, it would put the NCAA in a position where they would be more inclined to settle other similar litigation lawsuits due to the considerable damages they could face by losing.
“To lose a trial over these issues that the NCAA – and by extension, the NFL – and other football entities believe shouldn’t lead to liability because they’re resting on the idea that there’s an assumption of risk that when you play a sport like football, you know you could suffer injuries,” he says.
Written by Amber Chavez.