The lawyer who brought a lawsuit against the NCAA over concussion injuries in athletes is now turning his attention to high school athletic associations. Last week, the Illinois High School Association became the first defendant, but he promises more suits are coming.
The health risks that come with playing football at all levels—high school, college, and professionally—are making headlines again, putting high school athletic associations on guard.
On Sunday, Kosta Karageorge, who played football at Ohio State University, was found dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound, days after complaining about the effects of the concussions he may have suffered on the field.
The incident comes as the NCAA works to settle a class-action lawsuit related to the concussion issue, under which the organization would create a $70 million medical-monitoring fund. The proposed settlement is based on an expert report finding, among other things, that college football players are three times more likely than the general population to exhibit symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive degenerative brain disease.
Now Joseph Siprut, the lawyer who brought the class action in 2011, has set his sights on the country’s high school athletic associations.
Last week, one of Siprut’s clients, former Notre Dame College Prep quarterback Daniel Bukal, sued the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) for not doing enough to protect him and other players from the risks of concussion. Bukal, who suffered multiple concussions while playing football and who quit the game after high school, reports having migraines and memory loss. He is the lead plaintiff in the class-action suit.
“In Illinois high school football, responsibility—and, ultimately, fault—for the historically poor management of concussions begins with the IHSA,” the lawsuit said, according to the Associated Press.
The Illinois lawsuit—the first of its kind against a high school athletic association—will likely be the first of many, Siprut said. He told CNN that his goal was to eventually challenge every high school athletic association’s handling of concussion issues.
“Our goal is to bring the fight to the high school level,” Siprut said.
A Potential Precedent
If that legal campaign is is successful, the effects could be widespread. A recent study at North Carolina’s Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that, even in cases where concussions aren’t outwardly apparent, playing football can cause measurable brain changes. And the impact could be far more pronounced at the high school level, given the sheer number of kids who play.
“For every one NFL player, there are 2,000 youth players. That’s close to 4 million youth players, and the vast majority of research on impact-related brain injuries has been on the college and professional level,” Dr. Christopher Whitlow, who led the Wake Forest study, told Time.
IHSA said it was reviewing the lawsuit but has disputed its claim that the association has been negligent in protecting student athletes.
“We will review the contents of the lawsuit in the coming days and comment if and when it is appropriate,” IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman said in a statement to USA Today. “Student-athlete risk minimization, especially as it relates to concussion management in high school football, is and remains a top priority of the IHSA. We believe that the IHSA, in working with national partners like the [National Federation of State High School Associations], has and will continue to be a leader in this area.”