ORONO, Maine — Former University of Maine hockey player Kyle Solomon insists he doesn’t blame Maine coach Tim Whitehead or trainer Paul Culina for the way they handled his concussions during his two years playing for the Black Bears.
Concussions prematurely ended Solomon’s career after his sophomore year in 2010.
But when the law firm Hagens Berman contacted Solomon about becoming its latest plaintiff in a class action complaint originally filed in 2011 against the NCAA and NCAA football for “negligence and inaction with respect to concussions and concussion-related maladies,” Solomon decided to get on board.
“People in their 20s shouldn’t be graduating from college with migraines that won’t go away,” Solomon said Monday.
Solomon said the law firm told him it wanted to “change the NCAA’s return-to-play policy and thought my situation at UMaine would be a good example. It wasn’t that [my concussions] weren’t treated. But they weren’t treated as seriously as they should have been because the NCAA didn’t have a [strong enough] rule in place.”
“This is nothing against [Culina] or Maine hockey. Paul works hard for the athletic department. It was an honor to play for Maine. I loved playing for them. It was a shame it had to stop.
“It’s just a matter of safety. The sport can be vicious at times,” added the 25-year-old, who remained at Maine and finished his schooling this past semester.
Solomon said he didn’t join the lawsuit for the money “although, to be perfectly honest, I’d like to get something out of it to get myself out of debt.”
“But that’s not what [the law firm] is after and it’s not what I’m after. That’s not the main goal of the suit,” said Solomon, reiterating that the goal is to ensure all head injuries are more carefully monitored.
The suit is seeking compensatory damages for the student-athletes and to require the NCAA to implement return-to-play guidelines and systemwide guidelines for the screening and detection of head injuries in addition to implementing legislation addressing the treatment and eligibility of student-athletes who have suffered multiple concussions.
The suit also aims to establish a trust to pay for the medical monitoring of current and future NCAA football players.
The original suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on Sept. 12, 2011, and involved former Eastern Illinois football player Adrian Arrington. University of Central Arkansas football player Derek Owens and Ouachita Baptist University (Ark.) soccer player Angela Palacios also have been named as plaintiffs. The suit was amended last Tuesday to include Solomon.
In the suit, Solomon said he disclosed to the Maine coaching staff and Culina that he had suffered three concussions in junior hockey. However, after being given a baseline test to determine a specific athlete’s level of cognitive functioning as part of a concussion management program, nobody on the coaching or training staff discussed concussions or concussion symptoms with him, the suit said. Solomon also did not receive information from the NCAA on how to recognize or report head injuries, the suit added.
The suit said Solomon suffered a concussion in the second period of a game against Boston College in October 2009. After the blindside hit, he reportedly blacked out on the ice and then saw stars and experienced double vision for 10 minutes. He allegedly was examined by the UMaine trainer, received seven stitches, was told his eyes were dilated but returned to the game in the third period because he wasn’t officially diagnosed with a concussion.
However, the date in the complaint is inaccurate. The game actually was played on Nov. 9, 2008.
The document says that after the game, Solomon was told to “go back to his dorm room and rest” despite the fact he lived alone and no one was present to monitor his condition. He was symptomatic for approximately one week with headaches and sensitivity to light, according to the document.
Solomon returned to the lineup the next weekend against Providence.
He reportedly suffered another concussion when he was hit by another player’s elbow in practice in March 2009 and experienced dizziness, sleepiness and felt foggy. He was diagnosed with a Grade 2 concussion and was cleared to practice within a week.
But he never played again that season.
Solomon missed several games his sophomore year after being struck in the groin with a puck after diving out to block a shot against UMass Lowell on Nov. 27, 2009.
The complaint said Solomon suffered another concussion in January 2010 against Merrimack. But the incident actually occurred on Feb. 26 when he was checked into the boards and the cage on his helmet pushed into his throat, rupturing a blood vessel in his vocal cords in addition to causing the concussion.
He was taken by ambulance to the hospital and was sidelined for two weeks.
Solomon’s fourth and final concussion at Maine reportedly occurred during practice just before the Hockey East quarterfinals in March 2010 when he bumped into teammate David deKastrozza during a drill.
The play shouldn’t have caused a concussion, Solomon said.
Solomon visited prominent neurologist Dr. Robert Cantu and was told his brain had suffered severe trauma and was advised that another concussion could kill him.
“I went in to talk to coach Whitehead and told him I decided to stop playing. He told me he thought it was a good idea,” said Solomon, who still keeps in contact with Whitehead.
Lawyers from Hagens Berman didn’t return phone calls Monday.
Whitehead and Culina said they would like to discuss the situation but they can’t because of privacy laws protecting college athletes.
Solomon said he is feeling better these days but still has symptoms such as short-term memory problems and headaches.
“They’re definitely still a very big nuisance in my life,” said Solomon. “The headaches are the worst part. I don’t get them every day or every week but when I get them they’re extremely bad.”
He said it does appear that since head injuries are a “hot-button issue in contact sports,” the NCAA is “moving in the right direction. I don’t think it was while I was playing.”
The current University of Maine team has had a rash of concussions this season — seven, including three for senior center Kyle Beattie.
But the treatment is top-notch, according to Beattie.
“They’re very careful. They keep close eyes on us all the time,” said Beattie.