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One response to the ongoing arguments about concussions and head injuries in football has been: "They're adults; football is a contact sport; they knew the risk; and they played anyway." This can be persuasive if the third element is true. In a legal sense as well, an assumption of risk implies another assumption: that the person taking the risk knew of the danger and voluntarily exposed themselves to it.
But what if someone wasn't aware of the danger involved? What if players were misled about the science behind concussions and their prevalence in football? Or if a single player was denied the truth about his medical condition? That's the basis of one former player's lawsuit against Notre Dame.
Douglas Rudolph played linebacker for the fighting Irish from 2013 to 2015. After taking a hit in a drill during a September 2015 practice, Randolph suffered from numbness in his upper extremities. According to his lawsuit, he reported his symptoms to team trainer Rob Hunt, who said numbness after such an impact was rare, and cleared Rudolph to continue practice. The numbness following impacts continued and Randolph was given an MRI.
Hunt told Randolph that the MRI did not show abnormalities and that it was safe for him to play, but provided him with the actual results. By the end of the 2015 season, Randolph's condition had deteriorated to the point that he experienced complete extremity numbness without any impact at all. A second MRI revealed spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spine that puts pressure on the nerves; a third doctor told Randolph that continuing to play football after his symptoms started likely caused permanent nerve damage in his neck; and a fourth doctor, a neurologist with access to Randolph's first MRI results, told Randolph he should not have been cleared to play in September of 2015, and should never play football again.
Telling the Truth
"If (Randolph) had been told the truth about the results of his MRI scan," his lawsuit alleges, "his football career would have ended on that date and all subsequent injuries and permanent damage he has endured would have never occurred." This suit names Notre Dame, Head Coach Brian Kelly, team trainer Hunt, as well as multiple doctors and clinics involved in Randolph's treatment.
The university issued a press release calling the allegations "baseless," and Kelly also responded during his weekly press conference:
"I was surprised, but my comments would be centered on the release that we saw today from the university," he said. "And, I'm there every day. I know the kind of quality health care that we provide. We've got outstanding doctors and trainers and -- that's our mission here is to provide the very best health care to our student-athletes. And whatever's in their best interests -- that's important to note as well."