College Football Injuries: Understanding the Risks and Players’ Legal Rights in Ohio
While the NFL’s concussion protocols are once again facing scrutiny after the controversy surrounding the handling of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s multiple head injuries over two games played in four days, injuries at the college level remain a significant concern as well. Shortly after Tagovailoa’s concussion made national headlines, a safety at the University of Toledo, Maxen Hook, left the game after hitting the ground and then stumbling once he got back on his feet. Hook did not return to the game after visiting the team’s medical tent, and he missed the team’s game the following week.
Of course, while concussions are a major concern, they are far from the only injury risk in college football. During Ohio State’s Week 1 victory over Notre Dame, standout wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba left the game for good after suffering a hamstring injury in the second quarter. According to The Sporting News, he is expected to miss up to two weeks. Fortunately, the team seems to be taking the right approach, with coach Ryan Day being quoted as saying, “We will not bring him back if there’s any risk of him getting hurt for the future.”
These are just a couple of examples of the numerous injuries that occur in college football every week. While significant injuries to star players at the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level often make national headlines, the vast majority of injuries at all levels—from junior college to the FBS—go under the radar.
Why Injuries Are So Common in College Football
There are several reasons why injuries are so common in college football. While the nature of the game is certainly a factor, it is just one factor of many. Shortcomings at all levels—from the NCAA and other governing bodies to schools, teams and individual team personnel—play a role in student athletes suffering many preventable injuries as well.
For example, some of the factors that lead to college football injuries include:
Inadequate Facilities and Equipment
While major college football programs have multi-million-dollar, state-of-the-art training facilities, most programs do not. Many programs struggle with limited funding, and it shows in the facilities and equipment they make available to their student athletes. From poorly maintained practice fields and weightlifting equipment to pads and helmets that are well past their prime, many injuries happen because players don’t have access to the facilities and equipment they need to practice and exercise safely.
Overworking (Overuse, Exhaustion and Repetitive Stress)
Two-a-days are a part of life in college football, and coaches need to work their players hard to build competitive teams. But, there comes a point at which work becomes overwork and at which continuing to push puts players at risk.
There have been several stories of college football players collapsing due to exhaustion, and tragically, some of these players have died on the field or in the emergency room. But, even when working players too hard doesn’t put their lives at risk, it can still lead to significant injuries caused by overuse and repetitive stress. There is a fine line between training and overtraining, and too often college football coaches and staff members don’t know where this line lies.
Inadequate Concussion Protocols
In a 2021 article titled, College Football Falls Short on Concussion Prevention, the author cites a study that “shows that even preventable concussions are a persistent problem.” The article focuses specifically on concussions occurring in practice, noting that roughly three-quarters of all concussions in college football happen during training sessions. Noting this alarming statistic, the author asks, “Why aren’t college football stakeholders doing more and following in the footsteps of both the NFL and high school programs to make safety guidelines for practice more stringent?”
The answer isn’t clear. The risks of suffering a concussion are well-known, and it is also well-known that college football players are at especially high risk for suffering these injuries. As the CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation told the author, “We’ve known for almost 15 years that most concussions and head impacts in college football are caused in practice. Other levels of football have taken that information and reformed practice. But apparently and frustratingly, college football has not.”
Failure to Maintain Control On the Field
Preventable injuries occur during both college football games and practice when coaches and referees fail to maintain control on the field. When players are allowed to make violent hits that break the rules, or when fights break out, circumstances can quickly escalate to the point of putting players at risk for significant injuries. Teams and conferences have a duty to prevent these situations, but unfortunately, they fail to do so in many cases.
Medical Negligence and Malpractice
College football players can also suffer unnecessary injuries and complications due to medical negligence and malpractice. We see this most frequently with the misdiagnosis of concussions, but other medical mistakes can put players’ safety at risk as well. For example, failing to diagnose a fracture or tear, failing to properly set a broken bone, and clearing players to return to the field too soon can all jeopardize players’ health—and their ambitions to play professionally—unnecessarily.
Common Injuries Among College Football Players
These issues (among others) can leave college football players struggling to recover from all types of physical injuries. It is important for college football players to look out for their own well-being when they get injured, but they must necessarily rely on their teams’ doctors as well, and they will often feel pressured to return to the practice field before they are fully healed. In many cases, resuming physical activity too soon will not only delay players’ recovery, but it will also put them at risk of suffering additional injuries. This applies to both concussions (and the risk of second-impact syndrome) and musculoskeletal injuries such as sprains, sprains, tears and fractures.
Some of the most common injuries college football players suffer in the weight room, on the practice field and during games include:
Ankle injuries are extremely common among college football players. Sprains are the most common, and while ankle sprains can be classified as minor injuries in most cases, playing through a sprain can lead to more significant damage. Breaks and tears are common ankle injuries among college football players as well.
The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center refers to concussions as “a common and serious type of sports injury.” Common symptoms include headaches, neck pain, dizziness, confusion, fogginess and fatigue. More severe concussions may also cause seizures, vomiting, slurred speech, and trouble walking or sleeping.
Elbow injuries are common college football injuries, as they can result from falls, collisions or repetitive stress. For quarterbacks, in particular, the repeated throwing motion can cause stress on the elbow which can lead to damage to the muscles, ligaments and tendons. Falls and collisions can also cause elbow injuries ranging from bone fractures to nerve damage.
College football players’ knees undergo an extraordinary amount of stress. Running, blocking, tackling, and being tackled all present risks for potentially serious knee injuries. Similar to the ankles, elbows and other joints, potential injuries to the knees include damage to the soft tissue (muscles, ligaments and tendons), nerves, and bones.
Shoulder injuries are also common among college football players. Many student athletes suffer fractures and dislocations when diving for a catch or when they get tackled and have their shoulders pushed into the ground. Shoulder injuries resulting from repetitive stress are common among football players in a variety of offensive and defensive positions as well.
Spinal Cord Injuries
Sadly, each season several college football players suffer life-altering spinal cord injuries. Vertebrae fractures, herniated discs and other types of spine injuries can have consequences ranging from chronic pain and limited mobility to full or partial paralysis. While all spinal cord injuries should be taken very seriously, too often players do not receive the immediate treatment they need. While serious spinal cord injuries such as paralysis may be irreversible, prompt diagnosis and treatment can often mitigate these injuries’ long-term effects.
College football players frequently suffer wrist injuries as a result of trying to brace themselves during dives, tackles and falls. These injuries can range from sprains to fractures, and recovery times can vary from days to months. Similar to other types of injuries, when wrist injuries go ignored so that student athletes can remain on the field, this increases the risk of secondary injuries and more serious complications.
Injured College Football Players’ Legal Rights in Ohio
For college football players who have ambitions of playing professionally, suffering a serious injury can have major consequences. But, even for those that don’t, getting injured can lead to expensive medical bills, pain and suffering, and other financial and non-financial costs. Fortunately, student athletes who get injured on the field or in the weight room will have claims for just compensation in many cases.
While suffering a catastrophic injury can be costly for anyone, it can be particularly costly for college football players who rely on their ability to hit the weight room and be on the field every day. Ohio law provides injured players with the right to sue when their injuries could—and should—have been avoided. The process of seeking financial compensation for an injury depends on the circumstances under which a student athlete’s injury occurs. But, generally speaking, the options college football players may have available include:
- Suing the School – If a school fails to take adequate safety precautions to protect its players, the school could be liable in the event of a football player’s injury. For example, colleges can be held liable for providing unsafe training facilities or equipment or for failing to follow proper concussion safety protocols.
- Suing the Conference – College football players can also sue their conference (i.e., the Big 10) in some cases. For example, if a conference negligently hires a referee who is unqualified to manage games at the FBS level or if a referee fails to adequately protect a player’s safety during a game, the conference could potentially be liable.
- Suing the NCAA – College football players have sued the NCAA over their injuries in numerous instances. Typically, these lawsuits have focused on the NCAA’s failure to take adequate steps to ensure player safety on the field.
- Suing the Medical Department or Hospital – When college football players receive inaccurate diagnoses when they receive inadequate treatment, and when they are cleared to return to practice too soon, the consequences can be devastating. In these cases, players will often have medical negligence or malpractice claims against their school’s medical department or the hospital where they sought treatment.
- Suing an Individual Coach, Doctor or Referee – Injured college football players can also sue their coaches, doctors and referees individually in some cases. In most cases, players will file these lawsuits alongside suits against these individuals’ employers (i.e., their colleges, conferences and the NCAA).
Of course, some injuries truly do “just happen,” and college football players understandably may not want to sue their schools, coaches or team doctors if they want to remain on the team and chase their dreams of playing in the NFL. But, when players suffer significant and career-threatening injuries that could—and should—have been avoided, they should think seriously about asserting their legal rights. It is always best to make an informed decision. If the costs of an injury (both financial and non-financial) outweigh the benefits of not holding the at-fault party accountable, then it will make sense for the injured player to hire a lawyer to fight for just compensation.
Discuss Your Legal Rights with a Sports Injury Lawyer in Columbus, OH
The sports injury lawyers at Malek & Malek represent college football players in Ohio who have suffered serious injuries during training, practice and games. If you have questions about your legal rights after getting injured, we encourage you to call 888-444-7440 or tell us how we can reach you online to schedule a free and confidential consultation.