Gavin Class, the Towson lineman who nearly died when he suffered heatstroke in practice two years ago, will not be allowed to return to the university’s football team after a federal appeals court on Friday overturned an earlier U.S. District Court ruling that briefly cleared Class to play.
Towson appropriately followed its policy governing the return to play of ailing athletes, wrote Judge Paul V. Niemeyer in his majority opinion for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va.
“Giving deference to Towson University’s judgment, as we are required to do, we uphold its determination,” Niemeyer wrote.
He also praised Class, writing: “While we hold that Towson University acted reasonably in response to the health risks posed by Class’ full participation in its football program, we nonetheless believe that Class has achieved a substantial victory with his accomplishments. He can be proud to tell his story.”
Judge James A. Wynn Jr., one of three justices who heard Class’ case, partially dissented from the ruling, arguing the case should be remanded to District Court.
Class, still working toward graduating from Towson in the spring, took the decision in stride.
“Honestly, I’ve been in limbo for awhile. It’s not like devastating news, because there are still actions we can take,” he said. “I want to win this case, whether I get to play again or not. Because somewhere down the road, this could happen to another player.”
In a statement, Towson spokesman Ray Feldmann said: “We commend Gavin Class for his hard work, courage, and determination over the past two years. Today’s ruling is about more than ensuring the safety of one football player at Towson University. It is about ensuring the safety of current and future student-athletes by allowing team physicians, in the exercise of their professional judgment, to determine who may safely play and who may not. It is those current and future student-athletes who will benefit the most from today’s ruling.”
In August 2013, Class, a St. Paul’s graduate, collapsed during practice. His temperature rose to 108 degrees, which caused his heart to stop and his liver to fail.
After 14 surgeries at University of Maryland Medical Center, including a liver transplant, Class fought to get back into shape in hopes of rejoining the team.
Class, a 23-year-old senior, had been cleared to play by his doctors at University of Maryland Medical Center and by experts at the Korey Stringer Institute in Connecticut, a leader in heatstroke treatment for athletes.
Towson coach Rob Ambrose also said last year that he expected Class to return to the team, at least for one celebratory play.
But in May, Towson doctors said Class could not play because he was still a severe health risk and because monitoring his condition would be too onerous for the football team’s medical staff.
Class sued the university and won in District Court, where Judge Richard D. Bennett was sharply critical of Towson’s arguments for keeping him off the field.
The university then appealed, so Class had to watch as his former teammates began their season and Towson officials cleared out his locker.