Jury Rules TCU Player Not a Worker
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ A jury ruled Monday against a paralyzed former college football player who had hoped to prove he was an employee of Texas Christian University and eligible for workers’ compensation coverage.
After deliberating for about an hour, 10 of the 12 jurors concluded that Alvis Kent Waldrep Jr. was not a TCU employee when he was hurt in a game against Alabama on Oct. 26, 1974.
On that day, he sustained a spinal cord injury that has left him paralyzed from the waist down.
Now 43, Waldrep had hoped his lawsuit in state district court would lead to worker’s compensation coverage for all college athletes.
``College athletes still are at the mercy of their schools. They are not protected. They are the ones who earn the money. We convinced two (jurors) and will continue talking about this,″ Waldrep, of Plano, said.
He did not discount the possibility of an appeal, adding that parents and college athletic recruits should be thorough in asking school officials about their protections.
``Know that promises are broken all the time,″ he warned.
During testimony, Waldrep told jurors that TCU officials promised his parents he would be taken care of in the event of an injury.
State District Judge Joe Hart did not allow Waldrep, however, to tell the jury that TCU provided financial help for medical bills for about a year.
To back his claim that he was an employee, Waldrep had told the eight-woman, four-man jury that he got financial compensation for his work on the football field in the form of a scholarship, room and board and $10 a month for expenses, money properly allowed by the now-defunct Southwest Conference.
In addition to that money, Waldrep said he and other players on many occasions got cash stuffed in shoes in their lockers.
Gregory Whigham, an attorney for the insurance company, told jurors no one backed Waldrep’s testimony about the extra cash. He also said the scholarship was an award for his academic and athletic ability, not compensation for work on the football field.
Whigham would not comment on the verdict, citing the possibility of an appeal.
Waldrep already had won support for his argument from a state agency, which ordered TCU’s former insurance company to pay Waldrep worker’s comp benefits, $70 a month. The company balked at paying, forcing him into court.
Lawyers for the now-defunct Texas Employers Insurance Association declined to comment on the verdict, saying Waldrep still could appeal.
Jurors would not comment on their decision. Under Texas law, only 10 jurors must agree on a civil case verdict.
Waldrep said the case was never about the money.
``Seventy dollars is not going to change the quality of my life,″ he said. ``The only employees left without protection are the boys and girls who make it all happen.″
But Grant Teaff, the former Baylor football coach and executive director of the American Football Coaches Association, said the case could have cost schools a lot of money.
``You want to see youngsters who have problems be taken care of,″ Teaff said. ``But we’re not only talking about football. There would be a cost.″
Jim Epolito is a former Michigan State linebacker and president of the Accident Fund, one of Michigan’s largest worker’s compensation insurance companies.
He said he has lingering effects from three serious injuries sustained while playing college football in the 1970s. He said he can see how Waldrep felt like an employee, but that legally he wasn’t.
``My own personal opinion is they should be classified as employees,″ Epolito, 42, said of college athletes. ``When you fill stadiums at $25 to $30 a head, they are performing on behalf of some entity.″
Epolito also said insurance policies can be written to cover college athletes as volunteers. But he said no such coverage was available for Waldrep.