Former Oregon Ducks football player sues NCAA, alleges coaching-induced injury ruined football career

Three years after the NCAA was hit with a $125 million lawsuit by former Oregon Ducks football player Doug Brenner, the parties began trial last week. The case brings the issue of player safety and coaching-induced injuries to the forefront, as Brenner claims that the coaches during his time at University of Oregon were responsible for his suffering from severe injuries which have caused irreparable harm and prevented him from pursuing a professional football career.

During Brenner’s time at Oregon, he played under former football coach Willie Taggart and former strength coach Irele Oderinde. Brenner alleges that the pain and suffering that he endured under the direction of Taggart and Oderinde had caused Brenner and two of his teammates to suffer from rhabdomyolysis, a potentially life threatening condition. Rhabdomyolysis results from the death of muscle fibers and release of their contents into the bloodstream. This condition often results in severe kidney issues. Brenner asserts that the young men were hospitalized after they had been denied the chance to drink water after a series of workouts. 

The incident occurred in January 2017, when a series of workouts led by Oderinde resulted in the players’ hospitalization. According to USA Today, “the lawsuit alleges that Oderinde and the strength and conditioning staff instructed a group of about 40 players to complete 10 push-ups in unison, which developed into ‘(performing) hundreds of push-ups and up-downs without rest, and while being prohibited, at least on the first day, from drinking water during the workouts.’” Brenner 

Brenner played for Oregon from 2014 through 2017, where he achieved a number of honors and awards. Brenner’s football career was cut short when he suffered the injury at issue during his senior year in 2017 after only making an appearance in seven games. Oderinde, on the other hand, only suffered for a month as Oregon suspended him from his coaching responsibilities without pay for the month following the hospitalizations. 

The damages being sought by Brenner can be broken down as follows: $100 million from the NCAA and $25 million from Oregon. Brenner is currently being representing by Portland attorney Gregory Kafoury of the firm Kafoury & McDougal. According to opb.org, Kafoury is concerned with the role of the NCAA and the grueling workouts, as he stated: “The real struggle in this case is going to be about the role of the NCAA in allowing these kinds of punishing workout drills that are irrational, and serve no good purpose, and break the health of otherwise healthy men.”

Brenner and his attorney believe that the injuries Brenner suffered at Oregon ruined his chances of pursuing a career in the NFL. Brenner’s potential NFL career is also supported by former Oregon Ducks offensive line coach Steve Greatwood, who testified that, had Brenner not been injured, he “would’ve had an opportunity to at the very least make it as a free agent into an NFL training camp.” Greatwood further testified that Brenner’s injury was “basically the kiss of death as far as his senior season and draft prospects went.” Had Brenner not been forced to end his football career prematurely, he could have had the opportunity to at least try to be drafted into the NFL and continue a successful athletic career.

Medical expert Dr. Donald Nortman also provided testimony at trial in which he claimed that the plaintiff “probably lost 40% of his kidney function” and that his life may be shortened by 15 years due to acute kidney injury. Dr. Nortman further testified that Brenner will “more likely than not” require dialysis and/or a kidney transplant at some point in his future, both of which are common after suffering rhabdomyolysis

The trial is anticipated to last three weeks, and should Brenner be successful, the NCAA will have to re-evaluate how it handles player safety and coaching staff.

Feature Image Photo Credit: University of Oregon Athletics

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Co-President of the Buffalo Sports & Entertainment Law Society 2021-2022.

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