At 16, Destin Julian was an aspiring high school football player who dreamed of playing in college.
Alabama was his top pick. And his coach, according to his parents, had discussed setting him up with some prestigious college recruiters.
But during a homecoming game in 2015, Julian took a massive blow to the head in a helmet-to-helmet collision that sent him to the sidelines, where he went into a seizure that landed him in a hospital. Two days earlier, he had suffered a similar helmet-to-helmet injury at practice, his family says, but his coach allegedly discouraged him from seeing a doctor and encouraged him to play in the homecoming game.
Julian never played football again.
Two-and-a-half years later, Julian, now 19, is suing Hamady High School football coach Gary Lee and the Westwood Heights School District near Flint in federal court, claiming he was pressured to play while injured that day and that his coach fostered a climate of fear and intimidation in the locker room.
The lawsuit, filed Feb. 26 in U.S. District Court, alleges Lee called players “sissies,” “ho” and used racial slurs when they talked about injuries, telling them to “shake it off” and “play through the pain.”
Julian’s lawsuit is not novel, but rather highlights a growing legal feud over the impact of football concussions that started at the NFL and has now trickled its way into college and high school sports. In recent years, high school concussion lawsuits have cropped up in Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina, Illinois, Missouri and Iowa — where a former high school football player won a nearly $1-million jury verdict in 2015 for head injuries he sustained playing football.
Pop Warner, the largest and oldest youth football program in the country with 250,000 players, is also facing a class-action lawsuit in California on accusations of lying about making the league safer from brain injuries.
In the Flint case, Julian claims his coach and school duped him too.
Today, Julian is angry, bitter and lost. He has trouble focusing and paying attention. He still has seizures, can’t drive and has violent mood swings and struggles at times to contain his anger — issues that his parents blame on the concussion.