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Concussion lawsuit: prep football coach pressured athlete to play through head injury

A football field.
user: Michael Knight
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After suffering a concussion in a game in 2015, Julian had a seizure on the sideline and passed out, according to the lawsuit filed in February. His lawyer says it was the last time he played football.

In 2015, back when Destin Julian was a junior on the Hamady High School varsity football team, he took a hard hit to the head, and seemed dazed.

“He was a little bit out on his feet, as it was described,” said David Shiener, Julian's attorney. “And at that point he should be monitored.”

According to Michigan High School Athletic Association spokesperson Geoff Kimmerly, student athletes who seem like they might have suffered a concussion should immediately stop playing or practicing until they’re cleared by a medical professional. You can read the MHSAA concussion protocol here.

The lawsuit alleges that Julian’s former coach, and current Westwood Heights Schools Athletic Director Gary Lee “instructed” Julian “not to seek medical attention or treatment” after the hard hit to the head.

Allowed to play in a football game two days later, Julian suffered another blow to the head that left him unable to even swallow water on the sidelines. According to the lawsuit, Julian ultimately had a seizure and passed out before he was taken to the hospital, where he stayed for two days. It says when Julian regained consciousness, he didn’t remember getting hit or the ride to the hospital. He was diagnosed with a post-traumatic seizure and a concussion.

Shiener says Julian continued to experience sporadic seizures over the next several months, until at least April of 2016. He says Julian and his family are concerned about possible long-term effects from the injuries. The lawsuit says Julian would experience “episodes” where his limbs and head would shake, and he heard “hostile voices.”

The Lawsuit is seeking more than $75,000 in damages. It names both Lee and the Westwood Heights school district as defendants. The superintendent of Westwood Heights schools declined to comment. Lee did not return an email.

In addition to not following proper concussion protocols, the lawsuit blames Lee for fostering a team culture where Hamady football players were discouraged from disclosing injuries or seeking medical help. Lee supposedly "publicly berated and embarrassed students who spoke of injuries, called those students ‘sissies’ and ‘ho’ and used racial slurs against those students.” 

Shiener says Lee knew, or should have known, Julian possibly suffered a concussion in practice and prevented him from playing in games or practicing until a medical professional cleared him to return. The lawsuit calls Lee’s conduct “objectively unreasonable.”

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