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Jury clears NCAA in death of Cullen Finnerty

The NCAA has been found not responsible for the death of a former Brighton High School quarterback whose widow filed a negligence lawsuit against the association.

Cullen Finnerty, who died on Memorial Day weekend in 2013 at age 30 after going missing while on vacation with his wife’s family, was a standout at Brighton, earning all-league, all-county, and all-state awards. After redshirting during his freshman season at the University of Toledo, Cullen transferred to Grand Valley State, where he led the Lakers to three Division II national titles in the early 2000s.

After going undrafted in the 2007 NFL draft, he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Baltimore Ravens and finally with the Denver Broncos.

An autopsy determined that Finnerty, who was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 2018, suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy — a disease caused by concussions and repeated blows to the head, and listed it as a contributing factor in his death.

His widow, Jennifer Finnerty, alleged the NCAA did not properly protect college football players and warn them about the risks of head injuries.

However, after a three-week trial, a jury on Wednesday agreed with arguments by NCAA attorneys that other health problems and addictions caused Finnerty’s death and not the concussion and other blows to the head he suffered in college.

The verdict was the second in less than four months in which the NCAA was found not to be liable for the death of a former college football player.

The widow of former USC linebacker Matthew Gee, Alana Gee, also sued the association on similar grounds, saying the substance abuse problems both men developed were the result of the CTE and head injuries they suffered while playing college football.

Despite that, ESPN reports that the NCAA remains a defendant in dozens of similar cases that argue the Indianapolis-based central governing organization of college sports should bear some responsibility for the long-term health problems associated with head injuries athletes suffer while playing for their schools.

In 2016, the NCAA settled a class-action concussion lawsuit, agreeing to pay $70 million to monitor the medical conditions of former college athletes, as well as $5 million toward medical research and payments up to $5,000 toward individual players claiming injuries.

In 2018, the association also settled three days into a trial for a lawsuit brought by the widow of a former Texas football player for an undisclosed amount.

The Gee and Finnerty cases are the first two lawsuits to reach a jury verdict.

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