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In landmark case, widow asks $55 million from NCAA for ex-USC football player’s death

Matthew Gee was one of five linebackers on the 1989 Trojans squad who died before turning 50.Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Attorneys asked a jury Monday to award $55 million to the widow of a former USC football player, in a landmark case accusing the NCAA of failing to protect him from repetitive head trauma that led to his death.

Matthew Gee, a hard-hitting linebacker who was on the 1990 Rose Bowl-winning squad, endured countless blows that caused permanent brain damage and led to cocaine and alcohol abuse that eventually killed him at age 49, his lawyers said in closing arguments.

In the first case of its kind to go to a jury, the attorneys in told Los Angeles Superior Court jurors that the NCAA, the governing body of college athletics in the United States, had known about effects of head trauma in sports since the 1930s but failed for decades to notify players of the risks or put rules in place to protect players.

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“You cannot bring Matt back but you can say what the NCAA did to him was wrong,” attorney Bill Horton said. “Put this on the NCAA’s radar. This is the only way they will ever listen.”

A lawyer for the NCAA said Gee experienced a sudden cardiac death brought on by long-standing hypertension and acute cocaine toxicity and he had a raft of other serious health problems.

“The NCAA had nothing to do with the things that tragically took Mr. Gee’s life,” attorney Will Stute said.

The issue of concussions in sports, and football in particular, has been front and center in recent years as research has discovered more about long-term effects of repeated head trauma in problems ranging from headaches to depression and, sometimes, early onset Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease.

The monthlong trial is one of hundreds of wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits brought by college football players against the NCAA in the past decade.

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But Gee’s is only the second case to go to trial with allegations that hits to the head led to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease. A 2018 case in Texas settled a few days into the trial and long before it might have gone to the jury.

Alana Gee, the widow of Matthew Gee, is suing the NCAA for failing to protect her husband from repetitive head trauma.Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

Gee was one of five linebackers on the 1989 Trojans squad who died before turning 50. As with teammate and NFL star Junior Seau, who killed himself in 2012, Gee’s brain was examined posthumously at Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center and found to have CTE.

CTE is associated with memory loss, depression and progressive dementia. It can only be diagnosed after death.

Boston University has found CTE in the brains of 110 of 111 deceased former NFL players and 48 of 53 former college players, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Hall of Famers diagnosed after death include Ken Stabler and Mike Webster.