Lethal Conditioning: Taggart, NCAA Sued for (Alleged) Negligence in Extensive Workouts

Mar 15, 2019

By A. Lamont Williams
Former Oregon football player Douglas Brenner is suing the University of Oregon, Willie Taggart (former head coach), Irele Oderinde (former strength and conditioning coach), and the NCAA. The plaintiff is claiming negligence during a set of workouts that left him hospitalized in January 2017. Brenner is seeking $11.5 Million in damages, $5.5 Million of which being earmarked for past, current and future medical costs.
According to the 17-page complaint for negligence filed January 9, 2019 with the Multnomah County Circuit Court (State of Oregon), Brennan was one of thirteen football players hospitalized by the intensive workouts they were required to complete under instruction from then strength and conditioning coach Irele Oderinde (who allegedly held no strength and conditioning certification). Brennan claims that of the thirteen injured, five student-athletes developed rhabdomyosis as a result of the ‘physically impossible exercise regimen of squats and push-ups.’ Rhabdomyosis is a syndrome that causes the muscles to break down from extreme fatigue, followed by the release of muscle contents into the bloodstream. This syndrome results in dark (sometimes black) urination and could cause severe kidney failure or renal injury.
The complaint filed by the Plaintiff describes the conditions in which the student-athletes were experiencing as a result of the workouts, including discolored urine, seizures, and the inability to move their arms. The workouts are said to have taken place after a three-week break, which would apparently find the athletes in a position where coaches would be trying to get them back in shape for gameplay and spring training.
Intensive sports drills and workouts are not uncommon in the world of collegiate football. According to the complaint, before the workouts began, Coach Taggart used the phrase “find the snakes in the grass and cut their heads off” as a catch-phrase to symbolize the process of weeding out the weaker players and making sure only the strong survive the workouts (p. 9).
Although this is new lawsuit is not as severe as the case of Jordan McNair, the University of Maryland offensive lineman who died of a heat stroke due to offseason conditioning training in 2018, there is a quite common ground that can be drawn on the problems that arise when coaches push athletes ‘too hard’ without proper care and treatment.
Consequently, it is up to the judge to decide on the claims of negligence alleged by the plaintiff. It should be noted that Taggart addressed the media immediately following the hospitalization of the athletes in January of 2017 and Oderinde was suspended without pay for a month after news hit the mainstream. Accordingly, this suit could get settled rather quickly for the University of Oregon and its former head coach.
It might be a bit harder to pin down the NCAA, due to the familiar nature of NCAA battles with these types of cases. The NCAA has largely been able to avoid negligence claims because they claim to not have actual oversight and control over events. For that same reason, this suit could be decided based on which of the Defendants had direct oversight and control of the situation.
As of January 31, 2019, the defendant had yet to reply to the court filing.
A. Lamont Williams, a doctoral student at Florida State University, studies race, Critical Race Theory, and issues pertaining to social justice and ethics in sport.


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