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Bowling Green pays former player BIG money in concussion settlement

Cody Silk sustained multiple concussions while playing for the Falcons, and now he has reached a large settlement for the university. BG claims no liability, but what could decisions like this mean in the future?

You may have heard by now that Bowling Green has agreed to pay $712,000 to settle a lawsuit with former offensive lineman Cody Silk. Silk had alleged that the university had failed to pull him from play after sustaining multiple concussion-like symptoms.

A bevy of news outlets have reported on this since the agreement was reached yesterday. The case went on in some capacity over the last four years.

Most of the articles written about the topic make note of the important fact that Silk, like all other football players, sign a liability release that demonstrates that they understand the risks undertaken by playing football.

According to the same previously-linked article from Reuters, the following people were named in the lawsuit as having to have not followed concussion policies.

  • Former coach Dave Clawson
  • Former Head Athletic Trainer Douglas Boersma
  • Former Assistant Athletic Trainer Annette Davidson
  • Former Equipment Manager Joe Sharp
What were those policies? Well that's where the issue of liability comes in. The following were alleged by the lawsuit with points taken from Reuters: The training staff seemed to have failed Silk in questioning him as to whether he had previous concussions. Silk may have been afforded inadequate equipment, including an ill-fitted helmet and a faulty chin strap. Silk was allowed to practice shortly after sustaining what was described as a "concussion incident." He practiced repeatedly despite experiencing severe headaches and consistent vomiting over an extended period of time (around two weeks) and then experienced another concussion. It was after that incident that he was no longer able to be medically cleared to play football at BG.

Silk's attorney from Hagens Berman, (Steve Berman) had this to say on Silk's behalf.
"Bowling Green and their football staff completely ignored the policies they themselves created to prevent these injuries from occurring in the first place," said Steve Berman, attorney representing National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) football players. "Even worse, they failed to take the most common-sense actions to treat Cody's injuries, despite a sworn duty to protect all athletes playing on BGSU teams."

Here Berman addresses what he perceives are failure on the part of the NCAA to protect and actively help athletes from concussions and their effects.

Then there's this troubling tidbit.

Another physician brought in by the state, Dr. Michael Collins, director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Sports Medicine Concussion Program, found Silk had exaggerated his symptoms and deliberately did poorly on cognitive function tests.

Silk said that after he was no longer allowed to be on the team in the fall of 2010, he dropped out of school because of concussion symptoms and lost his scholarship.

He continues to suffer from depression, migraine headaches, anxiety and difficulty sleeping, according to his lawsuit.

So if we're to believe that players are exaggerating their symptoms so as to help themselves legally, where does that leave us? Of course the state has its right to defense but we're calling in experts to tell former players that the injuries they sustained from football are exaggerated.

Now let's get a few things straight here. Football is a dangerous sport. We can agree to that right? I played through six years of football and I knew the assumed risks of playing. I am not someone who thinks we should get rid of the sport altogether, but I won't listen to any calls about the supposed "wussification" of the sport. Bad calls from officials pertaining to illegal hits or targeting are one thing, at least it comes from an effort to improve the safety of the players. I have always been an advocate of officials letting the play repeat in their mind and take a moment before making an immediate decision, but once you make said decision, stick to it affirmatively.

While we can improve the chances of young athletes to play the game in a safer way, we are not going to completely eliminate concussions. In almost any instance, the concussion is no one's fault, and if anything it's just the result of an unsafe play.

The trouble comes with an institution of athletics backed so deeply in gritting out injuries and not taking precaution at onerous signs of health issues. Concussions will happen, but it is incredibly irresponsible to be dismissive of the injuries and damage that athletes, football players especially, are likely to sustain. Looking at you too NFL.

With former coaching and training staff having been implicated in this suit, it is always relevant to note the staff associated with a case like this. As mentioned before, Dave Clawson was named in the suit, and that could be because a larger name needs attached to such a case or because he's the head honcho and he oversees the staff and has to be implicated. We did dig up this bit from the archives about Clawson's current program Wake Forest.

He seems to have erred on the side of caution in this particular case in 2014 when quarterback John Wolford was held out with concussion-like symptoms. Does that have anything to do with Silk's case? Or maybe Clawson considered Wolford's status as a true freshman and that risks would be great if a chance was taken in putting him back in the game. The blogosphere can theorize, I'd like to believe that he generally was looking out for the kid.

In the end, it seems obvious that the university settled because it realized the broader risks it faced in carrying the case longer. Without a settlement, the university could have faced far steeper penalties because of what can certainly be framed as institutional failings in abiding by their own concussion policies that are designed to keep players safe. If we are to blame anyone, it comes down on the people in positions of leadership within the football program at the time for failing to abide by their own policies.

As you'll see here, the NCAA put this video together a couple years ago to encourage athletes not to hide concussion symptoms. Not to say that athletes shouldn't be aware of this thinking, and they should certainly proactively help themselves by not hiding health problems from coaches and doctors, but it's also passing the buck a bit, don't you think?

A case like this opens up potential arguments to be made for future lawsuits. When programs fail to do what's necessary to protect player safety, they might just be open to liability despite the signing of waivers acknowledging the risks of the sport of football. Hopefully other programs will be put on notice by this decision. Maybe it'll result in more precautions being taken, which would be welcome.These decisions and oversights are damaging all the same. Negligence can be just as dangerous as malice.