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Megan Ecord

Former PSU football player’s suicide and class-action lawsuit related

With over 100 cases filed against the NCAA, Zack Langston’s was chosen to be a sample case. Zack Langston, former PSU linebacker from 2007-2010, at the age of 26 took his life in February 2014. 

“He was a star, he had everything going for him, he had a young family, great friends around him, great job, and in an instant, that was all gone because of the effects of playing football, and suffering from all these blows, and ultimate head and brain injuries,” Ben Richman, managing partner at Edelson PC law firm. 

Towards the end of Zack’s career playing football at Pittsburg State, he started having severe anxiety and debilitating stress. After a couple months of these symptoms, he began suffering from paranoia, memory loss, and antisocial behavior. He became suicidal and planned his suicide in such a way that his brain would be preserved. He told others he believed his brain was messed up because of football. Langston suffered many hits, not only during games, but during practices as well. During practices, he was told to “shake it off” by coaches.  

“The Langston case is one of about one hundred class actions currently pending in federal courts here in Chicago, they’ve all been what’s called ‘consolidated to proceed before one judge,’ those cases are going forward in the sense that out of one hundred, four ‘sample cases,’ as they’re being called, have been selected to proceed with active litigation,” Richman said.  

Zack’s family alleges that he received over 100 undiagnosed concussions while playing football, leading him to take his own life. Langston had shot himself in the chest as to preserve his brain. After his death, they sent his brain to Boston University to be examined for signs of CTE. The results came back positive. 

“It’s not that every one of our clients or every one of the players that would be in one of these classes or has filed a lawsuit has taken their own lives but so many have, it is, I mean, sad doesn’t begin to put it in perspective,” Richman said.  

“Talking to the number of families who have reached out to us and the number of clients who have gone through similar things and similar in the sense that many of these guys explained everything they’re suffering through in terms of depression and anxiety and memory loss recognize what’s happening to them and they take their lives in a way to show people, through study of their brains, what football did to them and what might be doing to other people,” Richman said.  

CTE, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, is a degenerative brain disease caused from excessive traumas to the head. Some athletes who have had multiple concussions throughout their careers have later committed suicide and found to have had CTE. CTE can only be diagnosed after death, even though players may experience symptoms while alive.  

Langston’s case is the only case out of the hundreds that is filed against both the NCAA and the MIAA accusing them of negligence and wrongful death. The suit alleges that both the NCAA and MIAA ignored the dangers of head injuries and that they failed to protect student athletes.  

“We expect we’ll be able to show in the cases that the NCAA and the athletic conferences and all of the member institutions have known for decades upon decades what the severe negative effects of playing football are on players, and when I say ‘playing football’ I mean the sorts of repetitive concussive and sub-concussive hits that players like Zack suffer from.” Richman said. 

“Now there’s a lot more information out there, we expect for the cases, we’re going to be able to show in even more detail how much information the NCAA and its members knew and for how long they knew it and be able to show that they actually kept that information from players and their families,” Richman said.  

Many of the players represented in the litigation have not taken their lives and are experiencing symptoms of CTE now. Some have such debilitating symptoms that they cannot speak to attorneys, their family members must communicate.  

“In 2010, the NCAA put in new concussion protocols and that’s certainly a step in the right direction. There’s obviously been a lot more focus in the last few years on these issues, on how to protect players, how to manage concussions and related injuries better, both to avoid them and to hopefully correct and manage them after they’ve occurred, but more needs to be done,” Richman said. 

The litigation will proceed against the NCAA and in the Langston’s case, the MIAA as well. Pittsburg State is not named in the case though Langston played football and received many undiagnosed concussions at the school.  

 

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