Former Oregon offensive lineman Doug Brenner is suing the university, former football coach Willie Taggart, former strength coach Irele Oderinde and the NCAA, seeking $11.5 million in damages for a 2017 incident that left three players hospitalized with exercise-related illnesses.
Brenner's lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Multnomah County, accuses the NCAA and the university of failing to regulate and supervise workouts imposed by Oderinde under Taggart's direction. Brenner, tight end Cam McCormick and offensive lineman Sam Poutasi were hospitalized with rhabdomyolysis, a potentially life-threatening condition in which muscle tissue breaks down and is secreted through urine.
Jason Kafoury, an attorney representing Brenner from the Portland firm Kafoury & McDougal, said Brenner decided to file the lawsuit after learning in the past year that he suffered permanent kidney damage as a result of the incident.
"Experts have told him he has 10 years or more of his life taken off as a result of this," Kafoury said in a phone interview. "He's looking at premature kidney failure and may be on dialysis down the road. This has now changed the trajectory of his life dramatically."
After the incident, it was revealed that Oderinde was not certified by the National Strength Coaches Association or the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association, the two main certifying bodies for collegiate strength coaches. Brenner's complaint claims negligence on the part the university for failing to supervise the workouts and for failing to ensure Taggart and Oderinde had proper training.
Oregon suspended Oderinde for one month following the incident, but he remained the school's strength and conditioning coach. He now holds the same position at Florida State, where Taggart was hired as head football coach after one season at Oregon.
Hiring Oderinde to replace longtime strength coach Jim Radcliffe was one of Taggart's first moves after coming to Eugene in 2016. According to Brenner's lawsuit, Taggart made it known that he wanted to "find the snakes in the grass and cut their heads off" by subjecting players to an intense conditioning regimen.
Those drills commenced with no acclimation period when the team began winter conditioning in January 2017, Brenner claims. According to the lawsuit, players were required to perform hundreds of pushups and up-downs without rest and were denied water during the first day of conditioning.
When players reached the point of physical exhaustion, Brenner claims Oderinde responded by saying, "If anyone wants to quit on their team, feel free to stop" and later asked if players "had any blood in their pee yet."
"This was like collective, abusive punishment," Kafoury said. "It wasn't designed to make the players stronger or better. It was designed to break them down."
Taggart initially apologized for the incident but later described the story as "bogus." After the incident, Kafoury said, Taggart continued subjecting players to something called "dawn patrol," which involved players pushing a 45-pound plate in a crawl position up and down the field at dawn as a form of punishment.
"Willie was finally told by the university, 'No more punishment activities' a few months after all this happened," Kafoury said.
Oregon officials declined to comment on that assertion but released a general statement through spokesperson Molly Blancett.
"The well-being and safety of our students are our top priorities at the University of Oregon," Blancett 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 pending litigation, we don't have any additional comment at this time."
Officials at Florida State did not respond to requests for comment. Brenner also was unavailable for further comment.
Brenner is seeking $6 million in noneconomic damages related to "pain, discomfort, disability, humiliation, fear and interference with ordinary activities," as well as $5.5 million in economic damages related to past and future medical bills and impaired earning capacity.
Brenner is a Portland native who attended Jesuit High School. His sister, Liz, was a multi-sport standout at Oregon who competed in volleyball, basketball and track and field.
He played in 24 of 25 games in the two seasons before the incident but was limited to seven games as a senior before undergoing multiple hip surgeries. Because of the weight room incident, Kafoury said, Brenner was unable to do his normal preseason conditioning, which left him more vulnerable to the hip injuries that ended his career.
"He played a few games, but after that his hips went out on him," Kafoury said. "There's going to be a causation question due to the fact he was unable to perform at high levels and was carrying around all this weight and then tried to get back into football. Did that damage his hips long term?"
Poutasi and McCormick remain on the Oregon roster and are not parties to the lawsuit. Poutasi appeared in five games this season as a reserve offensive lineman. McCormick began the season as the Ducks' starting tight end but suffered a season-ending injury in the first game.
Brenner's lawsuit cites other instances of football players harmed by strenuous workouts, including 13 players from the University of Iowa who were hospitalized with rhabdomyolysis in 2011. One of those players sued the university for $200,000 before accepting a $15,000 settlement, according to media reports.
Other incidents, including the death of Maryland offensive lineman Jordan McNair from heatstroke in August, have drawn attention to the dangers of unregulated workouts. Kafoury said one of Brenner's goals in filing the lawsuit was to spur the NCAA to enact rule changes similar to those brought about by concussion litigation.
“Nothing would make me happier than to have this case save other football players from serious injury," Brenner said through his attorneys.