Lawsuit: Mater Dei Football Player Suffered Brain Injury During Hazing Ritual

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A student at Mater Dei High School in California suffered a traumatic brain injury, multiple gashes over his eye, a concussion and a broken nose in the aftermath of a hazing ritual that may indicate wider problems with the culture of the school’s football team.

Scott M. Reid of the Orange County Register reported the story, noting the player participated in a hazing ritual called “Bodies.” The ritual traditionally requires players to fight each other by exchanging punches in the torso between the hips and shoulders.

The player who suffered the injuries in February was approximately 50 pounds lighter than his opponent, whom he said he had never met prior to the hazing ritual. Per Reid, video of the fight shows the bigger player hit the smaller one in the side of the head and face after throwing him down to the ground.

What’s more, players can be heard using racial slurs directed at the player who suffered the injuries even though he is white.

The injuries the player suffered required surgery, and a Santa Ana Police Department investigator recommended felony battery charges against the other player who dealt the blows, per Reid. The smaller player withdrew from the school, while the other player remains on the undefeated football team.

Despite the recommendation from the investigator, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office has no plans to file charges.

The injured player’s family filed a lawsuit against the school alleging negligence, negligence per se-hazing in violation of the California penal code, negligent failure to warn, train or educate, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, per Reid.

According to the court filing, Mater Dei trainer Kevin Anderson delayed treatment of the injuries after the fight and even told administrators to hold off on contacting the injured player’s parents. The parents were not contacted for 90 minutes after the fight.

“Anderson knew how badly [Player 1’s] injuries looked and that he was clearly involved in a violent altercation,” the court filing said. “Thus, in an effort to shield its No. 1 ranked football team from scrutiny, efforts were made to downplay and/or cover up the latest incident caused by the athletic department’s toxic culture.”

Mater Dei dean of students Tim O’Hara eventually contacted the injured player’s father and said his son was suspended. According to a physician’s note, the player was physically unable to attend school at the time.

The lawsuit attempts to highlight problems with the culture at the school, especially when it comes to protecting the dominant football program’s image. 

The police report said other players told the injured student not to “snitch” on them. Head football coach Bruce Rollinson and athletic director Kevin Kiernan initially refused to cooperate with the Santa Ana Police Department but eventually only did so two months later.

Rollinson denied even knowing about Bodies and other hazing rituals at the school, although the court filing said he previously told the injured player’s father, “If I had a hundred dollars for every time these kids played Bodies or Slappies, I’d be a millionaire.”

The suit also states that the coach told the injured player’s father he was in a “bind” because the other player who participated in the ritual was the son of one of the volunteer coaches. The police report also said video of the incident was given to linebackers coach Pat Dunbar in February, months before Rollinson was interviewed.

Per Reid, the other player’s father told police in February that the issue “had already been handled by the school.” His son refused to be interviewed by the police, citing his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights.

“This incident [shows] that Mater Dei is more concerned about protecting its brand as the top-ranked football program in the country than protecting its students,” attorney Brian L. Williams said.

Reid noted Mater Dei has also faced multiple civil lawsuits from former students who said they were sexually abused by school employees.

“Mater Dei has a culture of lies and secrecy and this case is right out of their playbook,” the player’s attorney Michael Reck said. “They’ve covered up sexual abuse, they’ve covered up violence and now they’re covering up hazing to protect the glory of the football team.”     

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