Former Cheerleader Sues University, Alleging Coaches Ignored Concussions

In the lawsuit, Missy Martin claims coaches "bullied" her into participating in games and practices even after she suffered three concussions between October 2017 and January 2018

An ex-cheerleader who suffered multiple concussions while on the University of California, Berkeley's cheerleading team, filed a lawsuit against the school, USA Federation for Sport Cheering, and her former coaches, for repeatedly endangering her health and safety, according to a complaint filed this week in Alameda County Superior Court.

"It’s difficult because you don’t see concussions like you see a broken leg. I feel nauseous, dizzy, and fatigued. I always have this dull headache," said plaintiff Missy Martin, who met NBC Bay Area on Cal's campus on Friday.

The 23-year-old college senior re-enrolled at Cal after taking a one-year medical leave of absence from school due to her concussion symptoms, according to Martin's attorney Jennie Anderson.

In the lawsuit, Martin claims coaches "bullied" her into participating in games and practices even after she suffered three concussions between October 2017 and January 2018.

Martin, a "base" or cheerleader who does the lifting, suffered concussions after being kicked in the head.

"Sometimes the 'flyer' can get wobbly or maybe somebody doesn’t have a good grip, and that can just tumble down onto you. Other times, when you’re throwing someone up and they’re learning a new skill, maybe with a twist. My first concussion, I got roundhouse kicked in the face," Martin said.

According to the lawsuit, Martin emailed her coaches about her injuries and then received a phone call from cheer coach Lisa Keys. "Coach Keys pressured [Martin] to attend and cheer at the upcoming game. Coach Keys told [Martin], 'we really needed you in the game this weekend,' and asked [Martin] 'can you do that for me?' At the end of the conversation Coach Keys also instructed [Martin] not to go to the doctor."

University of California, Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof says the school has yet to be served and cannot comment on the lawsuit.

"Cal Athletics closely follows the dictates of a comprehensive policy on concussion management," Mogulof said in a statement. "Cal’s cheerleading coach maintains safety certification from several national agencies...Our policy also requires all members of the Cal cheerleading team to have an examination by a medical staff member when they first join the squad; this process includes in-person concussion education from an athletic trainer and a review of the concussion handout produced by the NCAA for student education."

Martin's lawsuit claims the University regards cheerleaders as "half-letes...mere entertainers instead of athletes," and doesn't give the cheer team medical care and resources that other athletes enjoy.

Martin hopes her lawsuit will create systemic change.

"I think anytime you're hit in the head it should be standard that you sit out and you have to see a trainer just to make sure you're cleared and okay," Martin said. "I would just like basic education for the athletes and coaches too so they can know how incredibly precious our brains are."

Matt Ha
A UC Berkeley cheerleader is suing the university and coaches alleging they ignored her concussions. (Oct. 4, 2019)
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