Jim McKnight/AP
Rice's Robby Heos wears the number
39 on his helmet to honor the death
of Dale Lloyd.

Rice University, NCAA Face Lawsuit Over Death of Football Player

September 26, 2008 05:58 AM
by Denis Cummings
The family of deceased Rice football player Dale Lloyd II has filed a wrongful death suit. The case highlights the dangers of the sickle cell trait for athletes.

Lloyd Family Files Lawsuit

Lloyd collapsed during a practice on Sept. 24, 2006, after running 16 100-yard sprints. According to reports, Lloyd—who had been given a creatine-based shake before the practice—noticeably struggled during the early sprints, but coaches ordered his teammates not to help him.

Lloyd completed the sprints, but collapsed soon after. Rice officials say that he was immediately taken to the hospital, but an investigation found that there was a significant delay between his collapse and the call to emergency personnel.

Lloyd never regained consciousness and died the following morning. An autopsy found that he died from “acute excertional rhabdomyoloysis secondary to sickle cell trait.” Lloyd did not know that he carried the sickle cell trait, which is carried by 1 in 12 African-Americans and has been linked to at least 10 on-field deaths since 2000.

On Tuesday, the Lloyd family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Rice, former coach Todd Graham, the NCAA and two nutritional supplement companies. They say the intent of the lawsuit is not to make money but to force Rice and the coaching staff to answer questions about Lloyd’s death.

“We’ve spent two years trying to get answers from Rice, and we have spent two years trying to see if the NCAA would change their policies. We’ve gotten nowhere on either front,” said Mark Lanier, the family’s attorney. “The suit is not about money; the suit is about policy.”

The family wants to know whether the creatine shake contributed to Lloyd’s death and whether the coaching staff did enough to save his life after he collapsed. They also want the NCAA to mandate testing for the sickle cell trait, which would cost about $25 per player.

“Were it not for the color of his skin, we believe Dale would still be in college with his whole life ahead of him,” said Mark Lanier, the family’s attorney. “If Rice University had conducted simple blood tests on African American student athletes, then they would have seen that Dale had the sickle cell trait and that he should have never been given a creatine-based supplement directly before being forced to complete such a brutal workout.”

A similar lawsuit may soon be filed by the family of a deceased University of Central Florida player who died last spring. Both families will likely be offered settlements by the universities, who have traditionally looked to avoid trial in the case of deceased athletes.

Background: Deaths on the field

At least 10 other athletes with the sickle cell trait have died since 2000. In 2007, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) issued a report warning of the dangers of the sickle cell trait. “Athletes with sickle cell trait should be excluded from participation in performance tests such as mile runs, serial sprints, etc., as several deaths have occurred from participation in this setting,” it said.

Last spring, Ereck Plancher, a freshman football player at the University of Central Florida, died during a practice. The UCF coaching staff was aware that Plancher had the sickle cell trait, but continued to yell at Plancher even as he struggled through sprints. The Plancher family told the university that they intend to file a lawsuit.

Past lawsuits have usually ended with a settlement for the deceased player’s family. The families of Eraste Autin, Devaughn Darling and Aaron O’Neal reached settlements with the University of Florida, Florida State University and Univeristy of Missouri, respectively. Darling and O’Neal both carried the sickle cell trait and medical examiners determined that Darling’s death was caused when the trait was triggered.

The case of deceased Northwestern University player Rashidi Wheeler has been far more complicated. Wheeler, who had taken supplements containing ephedra on his own, suffered an asthma attack and died during a voluntary workout in 2001, a workout in which several other players also collapsed. The training staff made several mistakes in treating him, and after his death a Northwestern doctor burned the record of his last physical.

Wheeler’s mother, Linda Will, sued the university and was offered a $16 million settlement, one of the largest wrongful death settlements in Cook County history. She turned down the settlement, insisting that the case go to trial so that the Northwestern coaching staff and school officials were forced to answer for their actions. She was ordered by a judge to accept the settlement in 2006, but she is planning on appealing to the Supreme Court.

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