You may not be aware of Greg Ploetz's work as a player, but he could leave a legacy that fundamentally alters college football as we know it.
Ploetz played linebacker and defensive tackle for Darrell Royal at Texas from 1968-71, winning national titles as a sophomore and junior and earning Southwest Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors as a senior. His football career ended there. Ploetz did not play in the NFL, instead earning a Master's degree before moving on to multi-decade career as an art teacher.
Though Ploetz did not play professional football, he suffered through the same health problem as many who do. A clinical report on Ploetz described him as such:
“[H]e became apathetic, disinhibited, exhibited compulsive behaviors, and his personal hygiene began to decline. He experienced paranoia and confusion, was psychiatrically hospitalized, and was in and out of respite homes due to aggressive behaviors. During his time in the respite homes, he was prescribed an array of medications that resulted in gait and motor problems … he could only respond to yes or no questions and was functionally dependent.”
Ploetz passed away in 2015 at age 66, and his widow, Debra Hardin-Ploetz, turned his brain over to the Concussion Legacy Foundation at Boston University. Researchers determined Ploetz died with Stage 4 CTE, the most severe level possible.
Hardin-Ploetz is now suing the NCAA for negligence and wrongful death. She seeks more than $1 million in damages. The trial is set to begin June 11 in Dallas, and while I won't pretend to know the legal ramifications at stake, I will quote someone who does.
Writes SI legal analyst Michael McCann:
In some ways, Hardin-Ploetz’s lawsuit sounds just like hundreds of other concussion-related lawsuits filed by former football players over the last seven years. The difference is that while those cases led to settlements or dismissals, or remain in litigation, Hardin-Ploetz’s lawsuit is going to trial, barring a last-minute settlement.
NCAA witnesses will be forced to answer questions under oath about player safety with jurors watching them. Also, the viability of key defense theories against the concussion lawsuit—including assumption of risk and lack of causation—will be tested for the first time. Retired players and their attorneys will certainly gain important insights from this trial that could dramatically influence whether other former players choose to settle their claims or go to trial. The fallout of such decisions could influence how the NCAA designs game rules and protects student-athletes.
"We're going to be taking the position the NCAA had knowledge and awareness with head trauma, the repeated hits to the head, yes, even as far back as the early 1970s," lead attorney Eugene Edgdorf told CBS Sports in 2017. "What you have is a scenario where athletes were not informed of the risks they were susceptible to that were known or should have been known by the NCAA."