Jessica Tonn Becomes First Active D-I Athlete to Sue NCAA over Concussions

The NCAA logo is shown at half court during practice for  second-round games of the NCAA college basketball tournament at The Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich., Wednesday, March 20, 2013.  (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Paul Sancya/Associated Press
Rob GoldbergFeatured ColumnistMarch 6, 2014

The NCAA could have its hands full with a landmark case regarding concussions in collegiate sports.

Stanford distance runner and three-time All-American Jessica Tonn has become the first active Division I-A athlete to file a lawsuit against the governing body regarding concussions. Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times provides the details:

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Jessica Tonn accused the NCAA of inadequately educating coaches and athletes about concussions and not implementing return-to-play guidelines or procedures to detect head injuries. ...

... The lawsuit doesn’t detail the senior’s condition, other than she “suffered a head injury as a member of the track team” and “needs medical monitoring.”

While Tonn will be the first and highest-profile athlete to bring a case against the NCAA while active, there have been a number of lawsuits from former players.     

The most notable case involves former Eastern Illinois football player Adrian Arrington. In January, the same court involved in the Tonn case decided to consolidate Arrington's case and nine others concerning concussions in the NCAA, according to Rachel Axon of USA Today.

According to the judge, all of these cases "share common factual questions concerning the NCAA's knowledge of the risks of concussions in football players and its policies governing the protection of players from such injuries."

Meanwhile, the NFL made headlines when it agreed to a $765 million settlement to cover the cost of concussion-related effects for former players. However, Maryclaire Dale of The Associated Press reported that U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody rejected this agreement, explaining, "I am primarily concerned that not all retired NFL football players who ultimately receive a qualifying diagnosis or their (families) ... will be paid."

With this high cost being assigned to the NFL, you can only imagine what the NCAA might have to pay out to a wider range of former players in many more sports if the plaintiffs emerge victorious. Additional athletes bringing forth complaints will only hurt the defendants' arguments if it goes to court.

Tonn is simply staying ahead of the game by bringing the issue to light before she leaves school. Jon Solomon of The Birmingham News points out that she is not alone:

It takes a lot of courage to stand up to an organization you are still a part of, but Tonn hopes to break down walls and bring justice to athletes everywhere.


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