Mark Emmert was recently asked to defend the NCAA's policies in court, justifying the fact that athletes could not make money off of their own image and likeness in the Ed O'Bannon case in California.
Now he's being asked back in court again. This time though, Emmert is asked to testify in a wrongful death suit.
The fact that the NCAA president is even being allowed to be brought into court by the judge is controversial. But the underlying premise could be even more stunning: that perhaps the NCAA can be held accountable for athletes that die under its watch.
Derek Sheely was a football player at Division III Frostburg State when he suddenly collapsed in a practice in 2011. He later died from a head injury, but his family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in August of 2013, saying that the NCAA, two coaches, an athletic trainer and a helmet manufacturer were at fault for his premature passing.
The lawsuit describes a case that is all too common in American sports: A player being pressured to rush back to the field, even when he may not be fit to do so.
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Family members alleged that Sheely was bleeding from his forehead "four times in a three-day span" after taking hits in full-contact drills where players run straight into each other. The practice was similar to the infamous "Oklahoma drill" that has been blamed for injuries and even deaths in the past.
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Now normally the NCAA's top official wouldn't be a material witness to a case like this. After all, Emmert was neither present for the drills nor directly presiding over them in any real tangible way. However, lawyers have cited two reasons why Emmert should be brought in to testify.
Firstly, he can speak to what kind of safeguards college sport's governing body has in place to avoid head injuries caused by dangerous drills like the ones that may have led to Derek Sheely's death.
Secondly, lawyers have said they want to question Emmert on a personal issue: that is, a letter that Sheely's mother wrote to him in December 2011.
The Sheely family's legal team has said that Emmert discussed the letter with NCAA health committees and that a four-paragraph response came from one of the president's proxies months later.
But the NCAA claims that Emmert is a "misplaced," or inappropriate witness. They argue that he shouldn't be called to testify because he is not able to impose rules on NCAA members.
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