• Sumo

By Ken Reed

College athletes are young, impressionistic and vulnerable to physical and emotional abuse from coaches and trainers.

Unlike their professional peers, college athletes don’t have a union representing them and looking out for their best interests. They also aren’t paid, apart from their scholarships. Thus, many college athletes — especially those from lower economic backgrounds — fear losing their scholarships if they don’t put up with abusive training regimens.

The power discrepancy situation in college athletics between young athletes and their coaches and trainers is especially dangerous in football, due to the preponderance of injuries in that sport, most notably brain injuries.

The latest example of alleged abuse in college sports involves three former UCLA football players who are suing the university for negligence in the handling of injuries they suffered while playing for the Bruins under head coach Jim Mora, who led the UCLA football program from 2012 to 2017. Each of the lawsuits is seeking damages of $15 million.

Former offensive linemen John Lopez and Poasi Moala claim that UCLA mishandled multiple head injuries they suffered. They claim the head injuries continue to negatively impact them today. Lopez believes his mistreated head injuries might have contributed to a suicide attempt. Former offensive lineman Zach Bateman claims UCLA was negligent in handling severe foot injuries he suffered while playing for the Bruins.

“While the lawsuits involve many of the same facts, each case is distinct in its own way,” says Pamela Tahim Thakur, an attorney representing all three former players. “But what they all have in common is the pattern of brutality and intentional disregard for player health and safety by coach Mora and his staff at UCLA.”

All three lawsuits name Mora, former offensive line coach Adrian Klemm, associate trainer Anthony Venute, the UCLA regents and the NCAA. Lopez’s lawsuit cites three concussions he suffered at UCLA, leading to his medical retirement after the 2015 season. He alleges that UCLA didn’t follow protocols after he suffered his first two concussions. He also says Klemm verbally abused him and other injured players.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans

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