OXFORD, Miss. - The lawsuit concerning the death of former University of Mississippi student-athlete Bennie Abram has been settled with no finding of fault against the university's athletics program, its athletic trainers, administrators or the NCAA. Previous inaccurate public statements and reports suggested a financial settlement was reached with the NCAA and the university. In fact, an NCAA payment reported by the media was from a catastrophic insurance policy unrelated to the lawsuit, and a $50,000 payment by the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation was offered as a settlement to avoid further legal expenses, which might have been greater than the settlement.
To honor Bennie Abram, the university announced plans to share with other programs its expertise in managing athletics-related illnesses and crises. A defensive back from Southaven, Miss., Abram collapsed on Feb. 19, 2010 during an offseason workout. The 20-year-old became distressed and was treated immediately on the scene by medical staff before being taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital, where he later died of complications from sickle cell trait. It was the first day of team conditioning drills, although Abram had been training with the strength staff in the weeks prior.
"While the legal component of this tragedy is behind us, the loss of Bennie will always be felt by the Ole Miss family and all those he touched," said Ross Bjork, Ole Miss Director of Athletics. "It also serves as a reminder to all of us that student-athlete well-being will always be our No. 1 priority. While our review showed that our care for student-athletes and our emergency action plans followed best practices in this case, we will continue to evaluate our efforts to ensure that we are providing the safest and most thorough healthcare for our student-athletes. We look forward to the educational programs hosted by Ole Miss around student-athlete safety and continuing to recognize Bennie throughout our athletics program."
The Abram family filed the lawsuit in May 2011.
"Early in the lawsuit, it became apparent from the lawsuit's allegations that the family did not know what had happened," said Lee Tyner, university attorney and chief of staff. "We decided that they deserved an opportunity to ask any question in a candid, straightforward way. So we did something extraordinary: in the summer of 2012, with litigation ongoing, the family met with our athletic trainers and the treating physician to ask anything they wanted. This effort to take care of the family's need for accurate information helped clear the air and led directly to the settlement."
An internal review found that the Ole Miss strength and conditioning and sports medicine professionals followed universal best practices consistent with NCAA, National Athletic Trainers' Association and other guidance regarding sickle cell trait. In fact, Rebel student-athletes were being tested for the trait even though NCAA rules did not require it at the time.
Abram was informed he carried sickle cell trait and received counseling regarding care. All Ole Miss medical personnel were alerted Abram carried the trait, and when he showed the first signs of distress, he was given immediate assistance and strict emergency protocols were followed.
To honor Abram, Ole Miss is furthering its leadership role in student-athlete safety by launching an educational program for student-athletes and sports medicine and conditioning personnel on best practices for preventing athletics-related emergencies. This will include a lecture series for Mississippi high schools and junior colleges, educational sessions at university sports camps and speakers at various conferences in the state.
Ole Miss had already begun recognition for Abram on campus, and those tributes are being expanded to include displays in the football locker room and athletics training room. In addition, the Bennie F. Abram III Scholarship will be awarded to a student trainer, and the Bennie F. Abram III Academic Achievement Award will be presented at the Rebels Choice Awards to the walk-on football player with the highest GPA.
Ole Miss will also provide tuition to Bennie's mother and two brothers for undergraduate and graduate courses at the university.
The NCAA did not make a monetary payment in connection with the settlement but did agree to continue to expand the provision of certain education and information related to student-athlete health.
As part of the case's resolution, the NCAA is distributing a "Point of Emphasis" regarding its Sports Medicine Handbook, which has been revised to stress the care and treatment of student-athletes. A legislative proposal is also being recommended that includes measures to help ensure greater safety at NCAA institutions.
"This settlement is another step in raising awareness of the dangers of sickle cell trait among athletes, and helping prevent tragic deaths such as (Bennie)'s," says The Lanier Law Firm's Gene Egdorf, who represents the Abram family. "We are pleased that Ole Miss and the NCAA stepped up and settled this matter in a way that honors (his) memory and will help save lives in the future."
Unrelated to the lawsuit or the claims in the suit, the Abram family received $275,000 in insurance proceeds, which was paid before the suit was filed. Of that amount, $250,000 came from Ole Miss' student-athlete insurance policy and $25,000 from the NCAA's policy.
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