Former high school football player files concussions lawsuit in Illinois

Sunday November 30th, 2014

A former high school quarterback is suing the Illinois High School Association, alleging it failed to protect him from concussions when he played and that it isn't doing enough to protect current players.

According to the Associated Press, Daniel Bukal, a former quarterback at Notre Dame College Prep in Niles, Ill., until 2003, filed the suit on Saturday -- the same day that the state's high school football playoffs concluded. Bukal claims he received multiple concussions and still suffers from persistent migraines and occasional memory loss.

The suit is not seeking monetary damages. It is instead calling on the IHSA to improve its concussion protocols governing head injuries at the more than 800 schools it covers. The IHSA did not have concussion protocols in place when Bukal played in the early 2000s.

"In Illinois high school football, responsibility — and, ultimately, fault — for the historically poor management of concussions begins with the IHSA," the lawsuit states. It calls high school concussions "an epidemic" and says the "most important battle being waged on high school football fields ... is the battle for the health and lives of" young players.

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Bukal's Chicago-based attorney, Joseph Siprut, filed a similar lawsuit against the NCAA in 2011. The NCAA agreed to a preliminary settlement in July, which mandates the governing body will pay $70 million to establish a medical monitoring program to test college athletes for brain trauma. The settlement is awaiting a judge's approval.

According to the AP, Siprut says he plans to file similar lawsuits against other state governing bodies. The IHSA only governs high school athletics in Illinois, and while all 50 states now have laws barring concussed high school​ players from returning to games, the suit alleges such laws haven't been properly implemented.

The suit also contends IHSA regulations should include mandatory baseline testing for all players before each season, using a computer program to track players' reaction time and memory. The results are then compared to the same tests after a player suffers a later head injury.

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Speaking on Saturday, Siprut denied the lawsuit wasn't intended to undermine the game of football.

"This is not a threat or attack on football," he said. "Football is in danger in Illinois and other states — especially at the high school level — because of how dangerous it is. If football does not change internally, it will die. The talent well will dry up as parents keep kids out of the sport— and that's how a sport dies."

IHSA executive director Marty Hickman issued the following statement on Saturday, according to the Chicago Tribune:

"We will review the contents of the lawsuit in the coming days and comment if and when it is appropriate," he said in a statement. "Student-athlete risk minimization, especially as it relates to concussion management in high school football, is and remains a top (priority) of the IHSA. We believe that the IHSA ... has and will continue to be a leader in this area."

Mike Fiammetta
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