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Paralyzed player sues Texas Christian

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- In a case that could trigger an avalanche of lawsuits by athletes, a former football player paralyzed in a game nearly 23 years ago is suing Texas Christian over his injury.

The crux of the case is whether an athlete is a university employee. The trial could lead to a revolutionary change in college sports, redefining athletes as a work force.

If he wins, former running back Kent Waldrep could be entitled to workers' compensation plus reimbursement for medical expenses. Jury selection begins today.

A Waldrep victory also could prompt legal action by athletes who were hurt while playing college sports. Athletes now are covered by catastrophic-injury insurance provided by the NCAA, the governing body of college athletics. At the time Waldrep was paralyzed, the NCAA did not have such coverage.

"It's about schools providing the same workman's compensation and health insurance to players that they provide the secretary in the football office," Waldrep told the San Antonio Express-News this summer.

"These are kids who are bringing jillions of dollars to the school they play for. The failure to take care of them is totally absurd."

Waldrep filed a claim based on the same premise with the Texas Workers Compensation Commission. In March 1993 the panel ruled in his favor and said he should be paid $70 a week for life plus medical bills dating to the accident, then estimated at more that $500,000.

TCU's insurance carrier, the Texas Employers Insurance Association in Receivership, refused to pay, appealing the decision. Under state law, that meant sending the case to district court.

Waldrep hasn't walked since snapping his neck in a game against Alabama in Legion Field on Oct. 27, 1974.

He remained in an Alabama hospital for a month and nearly died of pneumonia. He was told at a Houston rehabilitation clinic that he had lost all feeling from the neck down and that he should get used to life in a wheelchair.

Since then, he's founded the National Paralysis Foundation and raised $30 million for spinal cord research. He helped get the Americans With Disabilities Act and he wrote a book, "Fourth and Long," that was published last year.

He's also been married, had two children and, through physical therapy, has regained use of his arms and feeling in his toes.

 

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