Baylor University ‘Heading’ to Federal Court After Former Female Soccer Player Suffers Multiple Traumatic Brain Injuries

Mar 25, 2022

By Gina McKlveen

Former Baylor University women’s soccer star Eva Mitchell filed a complaint last month in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas claiming that Baylor knew Mitchell sustained multiple concussions and failed to protect her from “repetitive, aggressive, and unnecessary heading drills.”

The “drills” were conducted during practice by then head coach Paul Jobson using overinflated soccer balls that were fired from a high velocity machine, which caused her severe and continuous neurological damage, according to the complaint.

Jobson has since resigned from his coaching position at the University. Meanwhile, Mitchell’s complaint states that she requires full-time assistance from her family to accomplish even the most basic living activities.

The complaint, filed by Mitchell’s attorneys Robert Stem and Jason Luckasevic, demands a jury trial to determine compensatory, consequential, and punitive damages including recovery for Mitchell’s past and future physical pain and suffering, mental anguish, medical expenses, loss of earning capacity, and physical impairment. The complaint describes her injuries as “persistent and debilitating dizziness with diagnoses of post-concussion syndrome, persistent postural-perceptual dizziness, central vestibular disorder, dysautonomia, depression and anxiety” and further alleges the uncertainty of whether Mitchell will ever fully recover from these injuries, thus diminishing her once promising soccer-playing prospects. However, whether Mitchell will receive a favorable verdict in her case against the Big 12 university is also uncertain given recent outcomes against NCAA athletes, like football player Matthew Onyshko, for similar concussion and other brain-related injuries in federal court jury trials. 

In response to Mitchell’s allegations of vicarious liability and negligence, Baylor will be positioned defensively, disclaiming any of Mitchell’s assertions that its “reckless, intentional, wanton, and depraved acts and omissions” led to her injuries. Therefore, expect Baylor to double-down on its strict adherence to concussion injury protocol and emphasize its commitment to the health and safety of all its student-athletes.

Although Mitchell’s collegiate soccer career did not begin at Baylor, her injuries there have brought her playing days to a swift end. Mitchell spent her freshman season at the University of Kentucky where she was one of just three players to earn a starting position in every game while leading her team as a top scorer. Her standout skills caught the attention of Baylor University. She was recruited based on her exceptional soccer talent and awarded an athletic scholarship, which she accepted. From the Spring semester of 2019 through the Fall Season of 2020, Mitchell played as a Midfielder/Forward for the Baylor University Women’s Soccer Team.

Within Mitchell’s time at Baylor, two specific instances alleged in the complaint were the actual and proximate cause of her on-going head injuries.

The first instance occurred at a practice in February 2019 where Mitchell and her teammates were forced to participate in heading drills conducted by Jobson and his coaching staff. The complaint also alleges that Baylor was the “only women’s soccer program in the country” using this drill. Baylor coaches repeatedly punted “overinflated balls the width of the field required the girls to advance the ball as far as possible using their heads.” Upon impact, Mitchell’s complaint states that she “felt like her brain was smashed after she took the first header during this drill,” but she was nevertheless required to continue the drill for another seven to eight turns.

Following this practice, Mitchell and most of her teammates visited the team’s athletic trainer, Kristin Bartiss, expressing symptoms and signs of a concussion. Mitchell was then diagnosed with her first concussion related to the header drills. Further investigation by Mitchell’s father reveled that her concussion was likely caused by the soccer player’s “weak neck” and by Jobson “using overinflated balls shot too hard out of a ball launching machine which were hardened even further by the cold weather” of that February practice.

At this point, Mitchell’s complaint claims Baylor was “on notice Coach Jobson’s aggressive coaching and was aware of his heading drills increasing the risk of harm and injury to players, and in fact causing concussions to Ms. Mitchell and symptoms to some of the other women players on the team.”

Yet, a second instance took place in August 2020 during a three-day practice period several months after Mitchell had recovered from her first concussion. Once again, Jobson and his staff forced Mitchell and her teammates to participate in repetitive and aggressive header drills using the same tactics as before with overinflated balls, shot from a long distance using a machine exerting extreme velocity and force. Mitchell’s complaint states that she “felt threatened to participate [since] she had been removed from a game […] after she failed to “head” a line drive shot during a game.” Mitchell was also concerned about losing her scholarship and her starting position if she refused to participate. As a result, Mitchell sustained a second—more severe—concussion that has taken her permanently off the field and is taking Baylor to court. Ultimately, a Texas jury may decide whether Baylor’s coaching staff took the phrase “Get your head in the game” a step too far.