A former cheerleader, who suffered multiple concussions while on the cheer squad at the University of California, Berkeley (UC), has filed a lawsuit in California state court against the school, USA Cheer (the sport’s national governing body), and her former coaches, claiming the defendants were negligent for failing to implement concussion protocols.
Plaintiff Melissa Martin alleges her coaches bullied her into performing stunts even after she sustained her first serious concussion and that the University failed to take reasonable measures to prevent further brain injuries. As a result, Martin alleges she suffered three consecutive concussions, leading to potentially permanent brain injuries. Furthermore, this led her to withdrawal from school. In her lawsuit, Martin seeks damages and asks the court to order UC and USA Cheer to implement reasonable concussion protocols for collegiate cheerleaders.
Modern-day cheerleading is athletic and competitive, involving human pyramids, high-flying basket tosses and tumbling, according to attorneys Jennie Lee Anderson and Lori E. Andrus of Andrus Anderson LLP, who are representing Martin. “But Martin alleges that the University treats its cheerleaders as merely entertainers. Regarded as ‘half-letes,’ the UC Cheerleaders are denied access to training equipment, safety protocols and medical care, which the UC provides to other athletes on the very teams they support,” they said.
Specifically, Martin was a member of UC cheerleading and stunt teams from April 2017 through February 2018. The plaintiff alleges she suffered her first concussion during an October 2017 practice. Martin alleges that that concussion and subsequent concussions, as well as the accompanying symptoms, were “met with indifference and even disdain” by head coach Lisa Keys and assistant coach Jessica Chatto. Specifically, she claimed that after the first concussion, Chatto did not perform any kind of evaluation for signs of a concussion. After the injury, Martin said that she developed severe headaches, vision problems and light sensitivity. Yet Keys allegedly instructed her not to go to the campus doctor, and pressured her to attend and cheer at the next game. Martin suffered a third concussion while warming up before a basketball game, leading her to resign from the cheer and stunt teams in February 2018. She also withdrew from school. In the aftermath, she has “endured months of therapy, and continues to experience headaches, nausea, confusion and light sensitivity” and “suffers from depression and anxiety over her inability to return to her normal life,” according to the complaint.
UC issued the following statement to the media in response to the lawsuit:
“Cal Athletics closely follows the dictates of a comprehensive policy on concussion management. This policy includes essential elements of concussion education and protocols for management of concussion. Cal’s cheerleading coach maintains safety certification from several national agencies, including with the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators, which requires concussion education, and the coach has undergone additional in-person training on health, safety and concussions.
“Our policy also requires all members of the Cal cheerleading team to have an examination by a medical staff member when they first join the squad; this process includes in-person concussion education from an athletic trainer and a review of the concussion handout produced by the NCAA for student education.”
Martin v. The Regents of the University of California, et al., Case No. RG19037605 (Alameda County Superior Court)