A former Xavier University (Ohio) soccer player is suing the school claiming negligence, alleging he was cleared to return to the playing field without sufficient testing only weeks after two physicians diagnosed him with a concussion and one told him to stay off the field.
Neil Henley, a former honors student from Louisville and Gatorade National High School Player of the Year in Kentucky, is now at home living with his parents in Louisville after, according to the suit, suffering from memory loss and other health issues. In a copy of his lawsuit against the school, obtained by Yahoo Sports, he claims he was cleared to play by a student trainer and suffered a second head injury in a game only a month after being "rendered unconscious" at a team party on February 16, 2013.
The suit alleges Henley was hazed at the party.
"Member no hazing is done it's a great time," wrote one upperclassman on Facebook in the days before the party, according to the suit. "Well except the freshman [sic]." Another wrote, "Make peace with god tonight freshmen."
The lawsuit alleges Henley was "coerced in to [sic] drinking a significant amount of alcohol against his will," was "required to perform several humiliating acts" and "as a result of the initiation and hazing, Plaintiff suffered a number of injuries to his head." No upper-classmen sought help for Henley, the suit asserts, despite him being "unconscious."
Within a week, Henley was diagnosed by two doctors as having suffered a concussion. He also took an "ImPACT" test, which measures cognitive ability. His score fell below his personal baseline he'd established six months earlier. On February 21, 2013, he was told to "physically and mentally rest."
Correspondence obtained by Yahoo Sports shows Xavier was aware of the concussion as early as Feb. 18.
Two weeks later, the suit alleges, Henley was cleared to return to soccer by "an unsupervised student trainer." This was done "despite no further testing," according to the suit, no follow-up ImPACT test and "despite no further attempt to have Plaintiff undergo an examination by a physician."
"You have to be medically cleared to return and return to baseline," family attorney Brian Goldwasser told Yahoo Sports. "He never returned to baseline."
On March 23, Henley suffered another concussion in a game. Then, according to the suit and family members, he began having severe symptoms.
"Right before spring break, he said he wasn't able to go to classes," his mother Connie told Yahoo Sports. "His vision was really bad and he couldn't read or stand up to go to classes. He wasn't sure what happened to him."
Mrs. Henley said she called Xavier soccer coach Andy Fleming to ask what was wrong. She said he told her Neil hit his head at the team party. "I've already talked to the guys," she said the coach told her, "and Neil was probably drinking and hit his head and he was milking this head thing."
Yahoo Sports asked Xavier who cleared Henley to return to action and if he was administered a follow-up ImPACT test (to determine if his baseline had returned to normal).
Xavier responded with a statement: "We have reviewed the complaint. The allegations of wrongdoing are unfounded. The University will provide a vigorous defense."
Xavier denied Yahoo Sports' request for a copy of the university's concussion protocol for student athletes.
In June, Henley's scholarship was revoked. Xavier cited "performance issues."
Henley blames Fleming and the university. Specifically, the suit describes the performance issues as part of a "cover up." The athletic department knew about the hazing incident, the suit states, "which was compounded by the negligence of the athletic department and its trainers by requiring Plaintiff to return to soccer practice without concussion protocol clearance."
"The coach decided to cut him, he lost his scholarship, and he's no longer at Xavier because of it," Goldwasser told Yahoo Sports. "It's set him back from an educational standpoint, from a vocational standpoint, and from a personal standpoint."
After leaving Xavier, Henley started taking classes at the University of Louisville but had to reduce his class schedule from nine hours to six because it was too much to handle.
An interview request with Henley was declined.
"His memory is bad," Henley's mother said. "He sounds like elderly people do. He doesn't remember that he drove somewhere. Things like that. It's all short-term type things, daily things. He used to be able to study or listen in class. Now he has to write it over and over to get it in his mind."
Henley has been to several doctors without a long-term prognosis. The lawsuit, which seeks compensatory damages "in excess of $25,000," states his injuries are "permanent."
"Every day you hope something changes and it doesn't," Connie Henley said. "I don't think we can get any lower."
Read the lawsuit here: