Ex-Oregon player files $11.5 million lawsuit against school, NCAA, Willie Taggart

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Doug Brenner (57) played at Oregon from 2013-2017. (Photo by Brian Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Doug Brenner (57) played at Oregon from 2013-2017. (Photo by Brian Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

One of the three Oregon players who was hospitalized with rhabdomyolysis following January 2017 workouts is suing the school and former Ducks head coach Willie Taggart.

According to The Oregonian and ESPN, Doug Brenner, an offensive lineman who graduated from UO after the 2017 season, is seeking $11.5 million in 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 an impaired opportunity to play football in college and thereafter.”

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Also listed in the suit are former Oregon strength coach Irele Oderinde, who followed Taggart to Florida State after the 2017 season, and the NCAA.

Workouts took place weeks after Taggart was hired

Along with Brenner, offensive lineman Sam Poutasi and tight end Cam McCormick were also hospitalized after a series of strenuous workouts from Jan. 10-12 led by Oderinde. The three players were diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a syndrome where soft muscle tissue is broken down with “leakage into the blood stream of muscle contents,” according to the NCAA medical handbook.

The workouts took place weeks after Taggart was hired to replace Mark Helfrich. As a result, Oderinde was suspended without pay for a month and Oregon adjusted oversight of the strength and conditioning program from Taggart to the school’s director of performance and sports science.

When the suspension was announced, Taggart issued an apology.

“I have visited with the three young men involved in the incidents in the past few days and I have been in constant contact with their families, offering my sincere apologies,” Taggart said in a statement.

“As the head football coach I hold myself responsible for all of our football-related activities and the safety of our students must come first. I have addressed the issue with our strength and conditioning staff and I fully support the actions taken today by the university. I want to thank our medical staff and doctors for caring for all of our young men and I want to apologize to the university, our students alumni and fans.”

In April 2017, Taggart defended Oderinde, saying they ran the same workout programs at previous universities. Oderinde was previously Taggart’s strength coach at South Florida.

“I think our guys just overworked themselves and didn’t hydrate. They were trying to impress the new coaches,” Taggart told Fox Sports.

Lawsuit: Oregon was negligent in its supervision of workouts

The lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday, says the school was negligent in its supervision of the workouts. Poutasi and McCormick, who are still on the Oregon roster, are not involved in the suit.

From The Oregonian:

Brenner’s attorneys allege the University of Oregon was negligent for failing to prohibit, regulate or supervise the workouts, which they describe as “physical punishment regimens.” The lawsuit also alleges that Taggart and Oderinde, both now at Florida State, were negligent in imposing and carrying out the workouts, and that 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.’”

Attorney: NCAA needs to ban ‘abusive’ workouts

In a statement, Mark McDougal, one of Brenner’s lawyers, said a goal of the lawsuit is for the NCAA to “ban” excessive workouts.

“The drills were done in unison, and whenever a player faltered, vomited, or fainted, his teammates were immediately punished with additional repetitions. 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.”

Brenner played in 41 games, mostly as a reserve, during his Oregon career. His senior season was cut short due to injuries after seven games.

After Taggart left for Florida State, Oregon promoted offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal to head coach. The Ducks had a 9-4 record in his first season.

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