Stanford Runner Becomes First Active Division-1 Athlete to Sue NCAA Over Concussions . . . Then Backs Out Of Suit!
Jessica Tonn, a senior cross-country and track and field runner at Stanford University, became the first active D-I athlete to sue the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) over concussions when she filed a lawsuit against the NCAA in federal court on March 5. In an abrupt twist, her involvement in that litigation lasted two days when she decided that she no longer wished to be a plaintiff in the class action. Tonn’s involvement as an active student would have certainly made history, especially given that she participated in sports not usually associated with head injuries. According to the lawsuit, Tonn suffered a head injury while participating in track and field and requires “medical monitoring” but the details of her head injury were not provided.
Tonn filed a class action last week which alleged that the NCAA “failed to implement regulations that would properly protect student-athletes from the risks associated with concussions.” The 65 page Complaint (which dramatically opens with a quote from President Obama about reservations he would have about allowing his hypothetical son to play football due to concussion concerns) was filed in the United States District Court for the North District of Illinois. Tonn also alleged that the NCAA had long “suppressed” data about concussion injuries in its sports and the long-term consequences of such concussions. She alleged that the NCAA failed to correct the coaching and other “playing methodologies” that cause head injuries and asserted that the NCAA neglected to educate coaches, athletic trainers, and student-athletes about the possible signs and symptoms of concussions. Tonn’s Complaint also claimed that the NCAA did not require its members to properly educate its student-athletes as to when the true symptoms of a concussion can occur thereby invalidating any reporting requirements imposed on students to disclose symptoms. Tonn’s negligence theory is, in part, rooted in the assertion that the NCAA failed to safeguard the best interests of its student-athletes and that this has left these athletes vulnerable to brain injuries at a relatively young age.
Then came word on March 7 that Tonn wanted no part of the lawsuit. “I am no longer a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois vs. NCAA,” Tonn wrote in an email. “While I am supportive of advocacy for concussion awareness, I have no desire to be involved in legal matters of this or any other sort.” There had been no immediate updates to the docket to reflect this change and Tonn may still have a change of heart but her desire to withdraw as a plaintiff is quite curious given that she inevitably met with attorneys, read the extensive complaint and agreed to have her name attached to the litigation well in advance of the March 5 filing.
While Tonn was the first active D-I athlete to sue the NCAA over concussions, former D-I athletes and active non-D-I athletes have filed similar lawsuits.