EUGENE — Former Oregon Ducks football player Doug Brenner is suing the University of Oregon, former football coach Willie Taggart, former strength coach Irele Oderinde and the NCAA for negligence stemming from his January 2017 hospitalization following strenuous offseason workouts that resulted in a serious condition known as rhabdomyolysis and subsequent injuries.
Brenner is seeking $11.5 million in damages.
In an 18-page suit filed in Multnomah County circuit court on Wednesday, Brenner’s attorneys allege the university was negligent for failing to prohibit, regulate or supervise the workouts, which they describe as “physical punishment regimens.”
The lawsuit alleges Taggart and Oderinde, both now at Florida State, were negligent in imposing and carrying out the workouts, and the NCAA has failed to regulate such practices by coaches of its member institutions.
According to the lawsuit, shortly after Taggart was hired in December 2016, he told the team that he and his coaching staff were “going to focus on discipline in strength and conditioning and that they were ‘going to find the snakes in the grass and cut their heads off.’”
Brenner was one of three Oregon players, along with Cam McCormick, a tight end from Bend, and fellow offensive lineman Sam Poutasi, who were hospitalized following the workouts in early January 2017.
They each were diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a syndrome in which muscles break down with “leakage into the blood stream of muscle contents,” according to the NCAA sports medicine handbook. Neither McCormick nor Poutasi, who are still members of Oregon’s football team, are parties in the lawsuit.
The workouts, which lasted several days in January 2017 when the team reconvened following winter break and shortly after Taggart was hired and brought Oderinde with him from South Florida, were described at the time as akin to military basic training, with one said to include up to an hour of continuous pushups and up-downs.
When players could not finish the warm-up perfectly, they started over, with some groups repeating the process for up to an hour.
“The drills were done in unison, and whenever a player faltered, vomited, or fainted, his teammates were immediately punished with additional repetitions,” Mark McDougal, one of Brenner’s lawyers, said in a statement. “A key goal of this lawsuit is to force the NCAA to ban these kinds of punishing, abusive workouts. These workouts are contrary to NCAA guidelines for protecting players from injury and death. The NCAA needs to enact and enforce regulations that outlaw these practices.”
Safeguards were in place, multiple sources told The Oregonianat the time, with water available and players allowed to ask out if needed.
However, Brenner’s lawsuit contends players were not permitted to drink water during the first day of the workouts.
Some Oregon players downplayed the severity of the workouts on social media at the time.
Rhabdomyolysis can be triggered after a spike in intensity of an athlete’s exercise and by overexertion. Some players later complained of discolored urine, a common symptom of rhabdomyolysis, and others had elevated levels of creatine kinase, another indicator of the syndrome.
Oregon later suspended Oderinde without pay for a month.
The university did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Taggart and Oderinde knew of the type of severe consequences that could result from the exercise drill and knowingly conducted the exercise drill with conscious disregard to the detrimental health consequences for the students,” the suit claims. “… Alternatively, if defendant Oderinde was not aware of the consequences of the exercise drills, he was wholly incompetent to have been hired to perform a job as a strength and conditioning coach for a college football team.”
When Taggart left Oregon to become the head coach at Florida State in December 2017, he again hired Oderinde to serve as the football team’s strength and conditioning coach.
The lawsuit claims Taggart and Oderinde “knew or had reason to know, or knew and did not care that the football players would be at their weakest condition following the winter break transition period. Because the NCAA did not enforce such guidelines, the coaching defendants did not care that the workout violated NCAA guidelines for protecting student athletes from severe over-exertion injuries such as death and rhabdomyolysis. The workouts took place every morning on four consecutive days.”
Officials at Florida State did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Taggart and Oderinde. The NCAA also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Brenner is seeking damages for “severe injuries, some of which are permanent, permanent renal injury, a shortening of his life span by upwards of 10 years, increased susceptibility of kidney failure, kidney disease, and death, severe physical and emotional pain, (and premature death) and an impaired opportunity to play football in college and thereafter” as well as past and future medical bills, according to court documents.
“Nothing would make me happier than to have this case save other football players from serious injury,” Brenner said in a statement.
A former all-state lineman at Jesuit High School in Portland, Brenner continued to play for the Ducks during his senior season in 2017, but he had surgery for a hip injury in October 2017 and missed the rest of the season. He has since graduated from UO with both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.