INDIANAPOLIS — A Texas widow has filed a lawsuit against the Indianapolis-based NCAA alleging the organization failed to protect its student-athletes from brain injuries.
Peggy Robertson is the wife of Isiah Robertson, former football great for the NFL’s Rams and Southern University.
"His personality was bigger than life,” said Peggy. “He was very energetic, passionate about life and helping the underdog, which is what drew me to him."
Peggy and Isiah were together for 16 years and had a son together.
As the years went on, Isiah’s behavior began to decline—he had trouble sleeping and remembering things, and also experienced headaches and outbursts.
“It was very hard,” said Peggy. “You had a man that had a very dark side that would explode on the scene. I did not know that was due to brain damage until after his autopsy."
Isiah was behind the wheel when he died in a car crash in 2018 at the age of 69.
"He was unable to navigate his car and unfortunately caused a crash that ended his life,” said Peggy’s attorney, Dan Chamberlain.
Dan Chamberlain, an attorney with Indianapolis law firm "Cohen and Malad," said a brain analysis showed Isiah suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease associated with repeated blows to the head.
Chamberlain filed a wrongful death lawsuit on June 16 in Marion County on behalf of Peggy Robertson against the NCAA, which is headquartered in Indianapolis.
The lawsuit alleges Isiah sustained numerous brain injuries while playing at Southern University from 1967 to 1970.
“Since the inception of the football program at Southern University, there were no adequate concussion management protocols or policies in place to address and treat brain injuries
sustained by Isiah and others during practices and in games,” read the lawsuit.
"The NCAA has known about this, they have ignored it," said Chamberlain. "They have not warned student athletes that chronic brain injuries can cause long-term, lifelong permanent injury. That's what the NCAA should have communicated but failed to do so."
In 2010, the NCAA started requiring member institutions to have a concussion management plan.
READ | NCAA Concussion Timeline
The NCAA requires universities to adopt a policy that prevents athletes with a concussion from returning to play for the remainder of the day.
The lawsuit alleges the NCAA does not take violations seriously.
“A violation of the ‘policy’ by a member institution is considered de minimums by the NCAA,” read the lawsuit. “This is true even though Defendant NCAA knows the dangers caused by placing an athlete back into competition prior to the athlete fully healing from his or her brain injuries.”
"They should have done a lot more than what they did, and they failed their student athletes,” said Chamberlain.
The lawsuit alleges the NCAA knew that repetitive brain injuries in football games and full-contact practices created a risk of harm to NCAA athletes.
The NCAA has faced more than 300 lawsuits from former college football players who claim their concussions were mistreated, leading to medical problems spanning from headaches to depression and, in some cases, early-onset Parkinson's or Alzheimer's disease, ABC News reported in 2019.
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Peggy Robertson wonders if her husband’s life could have been saved.
“It's really just sad, it's heartbreaking,” said Robertson. “It doesn't just impact the athlete. It impacts their whole family."
Peggy says she’s filing a lawsuit to help other athletes, something Isiah was known for.
"My goal is to continue the legacy that he started," said Peggy. “He was all about the athlete, he did a tremendous amount of work trying to support them the former players who didn’t have rights.”
We have reached out to the NCAA for a response on the lawsuit, and we are still waiting to hear back.
According to the NCAA, in 2010, they adopted legislation that funded studies and informs student-athletes, athletic staff, and sports officials on current prevention and return-to-play measures.
In 2015, the NCAA’s five autonomy conferences passed concussion safety protocol legislation, requiring each of their 65 schools to submit for NCAA approval a policy for detecting a concussion and return-to-play protocol.
Click here to read the NCAA’s concussion timeline.