Family of late Pittsburg State football player files suit against NCAA, MIAA

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The family of a former college linebacker who killed himself in 2014 is suing the NCAA, assailing its handling of concussions that included more than 100 allegedly suffered by Zack Langston at Pittsburg State.

The federal lawsuit filed Friday in Kansas City, Kansas, also names the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, the league that includes Division II’s Pittsburg State, where Langston played from 2007-2010.

The lawsuit alleges Langston was not given appropriate medical treatment — at times none — for many of the “more than 100 concussions” he sustained as an outside linebacker at Pittsburg State, where he often was told to “shake it off.”

The lawsuit claims the NCAA — the nation’s biggest college sports governing body — and the MIAA knew for decades “that severe head impacts can lead to long-term brain injury.” But both “recklessly ignored these facts” and failed to put in place concussion-management protocols to safeguard student-athletes, according to the lawsuit.

As his playing days neared an end, the lawsuit alleges, “Zack began to struggle with anxiety and became consumed with debilitating stress — often over minor issues,” the lawsuit reads. “Over the course of a few months, Zack’s behavior drastically deteriorated,” illustrated by his lack of interest in socializing, extreme paranoia, memory issues and suicidal thoughts.

“Feeling hopeless, Zack began to plan the details of how he would end what ultimately became his tragically short life,” according to the lawsuit.

At the age of 26, that father of a 2-year-old son fatally shot himself in the chest, sparing his brain during the suicide so that it could be examined. An autopsy of Langston’s brain showed chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a type of brain damage.

A message left Monday with an NCAA spokeswoman was not immediately returned.

The amount of damages sought by the lawsuit is unspecified.

Concussions and their effect on the brain have received considerable attention in recent years as researchers concluded there is a link between CTE and Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and dementia.

In January of last year, a federal judge in Chicago gave preliminary approval to a head-injury settlement between thousands of former athletes and the NCAA.

That proposal includes a $70 million fund to pay for testing current and former athletes for brain injuries they say they suffered while playing collegiate sports, with the tests meant to gauge the extent of neurological injuries and perhaps establish grounds for individual athletes seeking damages.

The NCAA also is required to toughen return-to-play rules after a concussion, and all athletes will take baseline neurological tests to start each year to help doctors determine the severity of any concussion during the season.

The NCAA admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement and has denied understating the dangers of concussions. That deal awaits a judge’s final approval, with a hearing scheduled over that on Sept. 22.