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Family of college football player who died of head injuries files lawsuit

The family of Derek Sheely, a 22-year-old football player at Frostburg State University who died two years ago after sustaining successive head injuries on the practice field, has filed a lawsuit alleging that "reckless disregard for player health and safety led to [Sheely's] tragic death."

The 22-count lawsuit was filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court last week against two Frostburg football coaches — head coach Thomas Rogish and assistant coach Jamie Schumacher — and assistant athletic trainer Michael Sweitzer Jr., along with the National Collegiate Athletic Association and helmet maker Schutt Sports.

Frostburg and Schutt Sports declined to comment on the suit, and a spokesperson for the NCAA could not be reached.

The lawsuit contends that Frostburg football coaches "created an environment where players would be punished if they disclosed their injuries" and that they "challenged players to play through pain" to the point of risk.

During preseason practice in August 2011, Sheely, a fullback, and others were forced to participate in drills that required players to slam into one another, the suit claims, each taking "approximately 30-40 subconcussive, or concussive, blows to the head."

If the players did not perform as instructed, Schumacher "berated and cursed at" them, the suit said.

On Aug. 22, 2011, after several days of receiving head injuries, Sheely complained that he had a headache and "didn't feel right" according to the suit, and Schumacher allegedly responded "stop your ... moaning and quit acting like a [expletive] and get back out there, Sheely!"

After returning to the field, Sheely collapsed and never regained consciousness. He died Aug. 28, 2011.

A disclaimer on Schutt Sports' website warns in capital letters: "No helmet system can protect you from serious brain and/or neck injuries including paralysis or death. To avoid these risks, do not engage in the sport of football."

In a statement, Sheely's family — his mother, father and sister — said "it is inconceivable to us how, with all the attention on concussions, there is still no unified enforcement to prevent dangerous drills, stop false safety claims, or ensure proper medical attention to concussed athletes. We are haunted by the knowledge that Derek's death was preventable, and we feel an obligation to share lessons that could prevent other children from suffering Derek's fate."

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

twitter.com/triciabishop

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