CHICAGO (AP) — An Illinois judge has dismissed the nation's first class-action concussions lawsuit against a prep sports governing body, saying the Illinois High School Association has taken steps to make football safer and that imposing costly requirements could force some schools to drop the sport.
The ruling by Cook County Judge Leroy Martin Jr., issued Tuesday, rejects a case brought on behalf of players who sought court supervision over how high schools manage football head injuries. The suit also calls for the IHSA, which oversees around 50,000 football players at hundreds of Illinois high schools each year, to pay for medical testing of former high school players extending back to 2002.
IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman praised the decision Wednesday, saying the organization has worked to minimize the risk of injury in all sports.
"We maintain that the way to make high school football in Illinois safer is not through divisive lawsuits, but rather through collaborative efforts," Hickman said. "We have followed this practice for years, and it's obvious the Court agrees with our approach. "
College and professional football have faced a barrage of class-action lawsuits in recent years. But the case against the IHSA is the first of its kind against a high school football governing body. Each of the 50 states has its own governing body.
In its motion, the IHSA said it can't be compared to the cash-rich NCAA and NFL. The IHSA has $10 million in yearly revenue to pay for more than 40 sports and activities statewide, and court-imposed mandates could be financially crippling, it argues.
IHSA lawyer Thomas Heiden said during oral arguments in August that the Illinois group and state legislators are already dealing with the head injury issue. He and Hickman also have argued that the relief plaintiffs are seeking would make football prohibitively expensive for poorer schools, especially Chicago's public high schools, and lead to "haves and have nots" in the sport.
Plaintiffs attorney Joe Siprut countered that IHSA was employing "shock and awe" to raise the false specter of a threat to football itself, and that improving safety should help football survive, not lead to its demise. Siprut argued the sport is already in jeopardy because parents fearful of concussions are refusing to let their kids play, potentially drying up the talent pool.
He didn't immediately respond Wednesday to phone messages seeking comment.
In his written decision, Martin said it's clear the IHSA has worked to protect student athletes, and that the association doesn't have a direct relationship to football or the plaintiffs. He also noted the potential impact of the lawsuit.
"Imposing broader liability on this defendant would certainly change the sport of football and potentially harm it or cause it to be abandoned," Martin wrote.
The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit is Alex Pierscionek, a South Elgin High School lineman from 2010 to 2014. He says he still suffers memory loss from concussions he received at the suburban Chicago school, one of which led to him being airlifted to an area hospital.
Associated Press writer Don Babwin contributed.
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