• Sumo

By Ken Reed

In what could be the first of many, a class-action concussion lawsuit has been filed against the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) by Chicago attorney Joseph Siprut on behalf of former Illinois high school football player Daniel Bukal. Bukal suffered multiple concussions playing for Notre Dame College Prep in Illinois from 1999-2003. Bukal continues to suffer from migraines and memory loss. The suit focuses on the lack of consistent concussion protocols and management.

Siprut is the attorney that filed the landmark concussion lawsuit against the NCAA. That lawsuit resulted in a preliminary settlement with the NCAA that’s now waiting final approval from a judge.

“Our goal is to bring the fight to the high school level,” according to Siprut, who also said the goal is to sue every state high school athletic association in the country.

As high school concussion lawsuits grow in number, high school-sponsored football could be at risk due to the rising cost of insurance premiums.

According to IHSA executive director Marty Hickman, as more plaintiffs file lawsuits the cost of insurance could become prohibitively expensive. Some insurance companies are already requiring schools or school districts to buy separate concussion policies.

“Insurance companies don’t mind taking a risk as long as they can quantify what the risk is,” said Donald Davis, an insurance expert at the University of Illinois. “This is a new exposure that has just popped up.”

The pressure on football in general, and high school football in particular, is growing. Besides the insurance risks, parents are becoming more and more concerned about the safety of football. According to a new Bloomberg Politics poll, 50 percent of Americans say they don’t want their son to play the sport. Moreover, Sixty-two percent of college-educated respondents said they don’t want their children playing football, as did 62 percent of those making $100,000 or more a year.

“A spate of football related high school deaths made headlines over the past few weeks including young players dying after game day injuries in New York and Alabama,” wrote Annie Linskey in a piece about the Bloomberg Poll. “Across the country games have been canceled and seasons curtailed due to a surfeit of injuries and a declining number of young players.”

Another factor impacting high school football is increasingly tight school budgets. Schools are facing unprecedented budget pressures across the country. The result is school and community leaders, along with parents, are going to increasingly be forced to prioritize the school activities that they currently fund.

“Should our educational institutions be sponsoring activities that deaden and destroy brain cells and impair brain function?” writes Dr. John Gerdy in his new book, Ball or Bands. Should we continue to invest significant resources in football rather than, for example, music, which strengthens and develops neural connections and enhances brain function?”

Those are two challenging questions we face as parents and citizens today.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans

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