It has been more than two years since Division III Frostburg State football player Derek Sheely died due to complications from head injuries suffered during practice, and his parents are taking the NCAA, the school and several of its coaches to task.
According to Nathan Fenno of The Washington Times, Ken and Kristen Sheely filed a lawsuit against the NCAA, Frostburg State head coach Tom Rogish, running backs coach Jamie Schumacher, trainer Michael Schweitzer Jr. and helmet maker Schutt Sports back in August in hopes of preventing such tragic losses from happening in the future.
The Sheelys believe that their son's death could have been prevented if the NCAA had more stringent concussion policies and if the Frostburg State coaching staff acted responsibly.
With no fear of retribution for violating the protocol, Frostburg State coaches were—the Sheelys believe—negligent in essentially forcing their son to continue practicing after suffering multiple head injuries.
According to Fenno's report, Sheely and the other fullbacks were forced to compete in a drill that involved one player hitting another with full force without the other player being allowed to defend himself. This particular drill led to Sheely busting his head open on four different occasions, but he was simply bandaged up and told to continue practicing each time.
The lawsuit alleges that Sheely complained of a headache, but he was pressured to get back out on the field rather than being evaluated for head injuries.
During a full-speed 7-on-7 exercise, the lawsuit says, Derek told Mr. Schumacher that he had a "headache" and "didn’t feel right." Derek never acknowledged pain. Mr. Rogish and other coaches stood within earshot. In response, Mr. Schumacher reportedly shouted: "Stop your bitching and moaning and quit acting like a p**** and get back out there, Sheely!"
After taking an additional hit, Sheely ultimately collapsed and later died from the head injuries he suffered.
According to Fenno, the Sheelys first became aware of the circumstances surrounding their son's death after receiving an anonymous email from someone who described themselves as one of Sheely's teammates. The email read:
There were many players on that team who had tweaked hamstrings, ankles and headaches, and even though the trainers told us to report everything, Schumacher as well as Rogish would tell us not to.
In addition to their issues with the way Frostburg State's coaches handled their son, the Sheelys are also disillusioned with the NCAA due to their response to a letter they sent about Derek's death.
Four months after Kristen Sheely wrote NCAA President Mark Emmert in December 2011 about her son’s death, an envelope arrived from Indianapolis. The four-paragraph letter from Mr. Klossner extended condolences, called Derek’s death “tragic” and noted that risk can’t be removed completely from contact sports. Then Mr. Klossner directed her to the NCAA’s health and safety website.
Although the Sheelys didn't necessarily want to do battle in a courtroom, according to Fenno, their desire to see change within the NCAA prompted them to file the lawsuit after months of deliberation.
There is no doubt that the Sheelys are in for a long and arduous fight, but it seems as though the memory of their son is all the motivation they need to fight for enhancements of the NCAA's concussion protocol.
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