Lawsuit seeks $11.5 million from NCAA, Oregon, ex-coach over workout-caused injuries

An $11.5 million lawsuit against the NCAA, the University of Oregon and former Ducks football coach Willie Taggart was filed Wednesday on behalf of former Oregon offensive lineman Doug Brenner, seeking compensation for "serious, lifelong injuries sustained during a series of highly controversial workouts imposed on Duck players in January, 2017," Brenner's attorney told ESPN.

Taggart's strength and conditioning coach, Irele Oderinde, was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit submitted by the firm of Kafoury & McDougal and attorney Travis Eiva.

According to the lawsuit, which was filed in circuit court in the state of Oregon, "the coaches imposed a physically impossible exercise regimen of squats and told the student athletes that the workout 'would demonstrate who wanted to be on the team.'"

"The drills were done in unison, and whenever a player faltered, vomited, or fainted, his teammates were immediately punished with additional repetitions," Mark McDougal, a member of Brenner's legal team, said in a statement. "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. Guidelines, however, are only suggestions. The NCAA needs to enact and enforce binding regulations that outlaw these practices."

The university issued a statement Wednesday saying they were aware of the lawsuit and that safety of students is a top priority.

"The well-being and safety of our students are our top priorities at the University of Oregon," the statement said. "We have been advised of the litigation filed today but have not been served a copy of the complaint, at which point we will respond appropriately in the court proceedings. In light of the pending litigation, we don't have any additional comment at this time."

Oderinde, who was hired by Taggart at Florida State for the same position, was suspended by Oregon in 2017 for a month without pay after tight end Cam McCormick and offensive lineman Sam Poutasi were hospitalized with Brenner and suffered from rhabdomyolysis as a result of workouts when Taggart was first hired at Oregon.

The condition, in which skeletal muscle tissue is rapidly broken down and products of that process are released into the bloodstream, caused permanent damage to Brenner's kidneys, and his life expectancy has been reduced by about 10 years, according to the lawsuit. Depending on the severity, rhabdomyolysis can be harmful to the kidneys and might lead to kidney failure, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

"Nothing would make me happier than to have this case save other football players from serious injury," Brenner said in a statement.

According to the lawsuit, Oderinde did not carry industry-required certification to be a strength and conditioning coach at Oregon. According to the lawsuit, Taggart told players when he was hired that he and the new coaches 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."

Brenner, McCormick and Poutasi rejoined the team, but the incident prompted Oregon to change its reporting system, with the strength and conditioning coach answering to the Ducks' director of performance and sports science instead of the head coach.

At the time, Taggart issued a public apology, saying, "I hold myself responsible for all of our football-related activities, and the safety of our students must come first."

There were conflicting reports about the severity of the workouts, as The Oregonian initially reported through multiple sources that the intensity was "akin to military basic training, with one said to include up to an hour of continuous push-ups and up downs," but ESPN reported through sources that the workouts weren't as strenuous. Several players had also used Twitter to downplay it at the time.

Taggart was not immediately available for comment.