Former EIU defensive back is suing the NCAA, alleging maltreatment
BY RICK TELANDER firstname.lastname@example.org February 18, 2013 10:01AM
Bloomington running back Adrian Arrington tries to clear a pile of Providence Catholic defenders during the first quarter of the Class 6A championship game, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2004, at Memorial Stadium at the University of Illinois in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/ Stephen Haas)
Updated: March 15, 2013 1:50PM
Attorney Joseph Siprut strides through his downtown law office, the one with the corner view, tall windows and the crystal decanter of scotch on a distant table.
Business is good.
Siprut’s law firm, Siprut PC, of which he is the founder and managing partner, recently won a class-action suit against Southwest Airlines, with damages valued at between $29 million and $58 million. It had to do with vouchers for free drinks.
“Not the biggest problem in the world,’’ Siprut says. “But they were wrong.’’
Siprut has another project on his mind.
In September 2011, he filed a federal suit alleging the NCAA has not actively protected, treated or advised its football players who have suffered brain trauma.
The suit’s declaration is more strongly worded: “For over 30 years, the NCAA has failed its student-athletes — choosing instead to sacrifice them on the altar of money and profits …’’
This may sound like old stuff to some, like saber-rattling to others. But Siprut means it. At risk is the very existence of the game.
“We’re suing football to save football,’’ Siprut says. “This suit could save the NCAA from itself. It’s their only chance.’’
What Siprut had needed at the beginning of his quest was a flagbearer for the fight. He found him.
“Adrian Arrington came to me,’’ Siprut says. ‘‘I said, ‘I’ve been waiting for you.’ ’’
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The apartment is small. The few furnishings are cheap. There are a lot of these apartments in a row in a not-lovely part of Bloomington, Ill.
Arrington, 26, a former star safety and team captain for Eastern Illinois, sits on the blanket-covered couch and tries to remember when he had the concussion that finished his career.
“I think it was the SIU game,’’ he says. “I think it was the time that after the game I didn’t recognize my parents. I think that was it. But I don’t remember.’’
Of course not. That’s the point. Arrington was a hard-hitting, head-hunting defensive back, just like the EIU coaching staff wanted, and the reason he is the main plaintiff in the NCAA lawsuit is that, frankly, he can’t remember things.
Plus, he has seizures. And he he’ll have a migraine headache daily that is so severe, he says grimly, “On a scale of one to 10, it’s an 11.’’
Arrington was a 6-1, 190-pound loaded missile for the Panthers, and if you check YouTube, you can see some of his collisions. They are detonations that blew up the victim and the bomb. But no matter how much he staggered or heard trains or saw stars, Arrington always went back into the game.
That’s where he wanted to be. That was his football self. And, of course, the coaches loved it, loved that he was reckless and dangerous.
“The Tennessee State game, I got a concussion, and I guess I was begging to go back in, and my parents are telling the coaches, everyone, ‘Do not let this kid go back on the field!’ ’’ Then he shrugs sadly. “I don’t remember any of it.’’
The facts are that Arrington was concussed so many times that he is, for now, at least, a ruined young man. All from football.
He has two young daughters and a 7-year-old stepson, and he can’t be alone with them because of his seizures. In college, his roommates asked him why he slept so often on the downstairs couch. It was so they would be sure to see him, he explained, if he were unconscious or dying.
Besides the headaches and the brain-damaged seizures, Arrington has severe depression and memory lapses. It’s hard to believe, but he continued to play football even after having seizures because he took medication and was cleared to go by EIU officials.
He puts his daily meds on the low table by the couch. The anticonvulsant Topiramate, anti-epileptic Keppra, antidepressant Fluoxetine and hydrocodone for the pain. Indeed, one time during a seizure, Arrington dislocated his shoulder.
He’s seeing neurologist Michael Xu in Peoria, and Arrington likes him. He hopes that Xu can help him get better, lose the cloud that envelops him.
“I want to know what’s wrong with me,’’ Arrington says. Sometimes when the gloom hits hardest, he will lie on his bed and cry for a long time. He won’t own a gun.
“I haven’t wanted to harm myself yet,’’ he says. “But I’ll drink to get away from the headaches. And …’’ He hesitates. “And I just don’t know what to do anymore.’’
Arrington’s father and mother, George and Lorine Roach (Arrington is her maiden name), come by the apartment.
Dad corrects all of Adrian’s mistakes on games and concussions. “It was Eastern Kentucky when you didn’t know what quarter it was,’’ Dad says. “And you played the next game. I remember telling Chad Cleveland, one of the coaches, ‘He’s got no business playing!’ And he said, ‘He’s all right.’ ’’
The point is, the damage is done.
The suit, which includes three other former NCAA athletes at other schools, is on.
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“My goal is not to ban football,’’ says Siprut, who has a young boy, Joe Jr., whom he doesn’t want playing the game. “But if through the process of dialogue, reasonable people feel it’s too dangerous to play, I’ll be able to sleep at night.’’
That is something Adrian Arrington would love to do, too.