EUGENE — A lawyer representing the University of Oregon in the civil trial against former UO offensive lineman Doug Brenner argued Monday that former Ducks star quarterback Marcus Mariota shouldn’t be allowed to testify about his former teammates’ NFL prospects because the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner “ is not an expert in understanding the holistic skill set that an offensive lineman needs to make it to the NFL.”
Marten King of Perkins Coie, the firm defending UO, former football coach Willie Taggart and former strength and conditioning coach Irele Oderinde in the case, argued during a hearing in Lane County Circuit Court that Mariota, former Oregon defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux and former Oregon offensive tackle Tyrell Crosby — who Brenner’s lawyers intend to call as witnesses this week — should not be permitted to address the pro potential of their former teammate.
“Football is an extremely complicated sport and the dynamics of it are something that would benefit from expert testimony,” King said. “Our argument is that if you play in the NFL, you don’t understand a whole host of things about whether or not someone would make it there. First is, you might not understand the position of the person whose prospects we are evaluating. Marcus Mariota, one of the witnesses they intend to qualify, is an NFL quarterback. He is not an offensive lineman and he does not understand the intricacies of leverage that go into —”
Judge Clara Rigmaiden, who has readily professed her lack of football acumen, cut off the attorney to ask how she, or presumably a juror who is not well versed in the sport, would know such a thing. Rigmaiden asked why a quarterback wouldn’t understand an offensive lineman’s job.
“We think it’s sort of obvious on its face because a person who plays quarterback has to learn a specialized set of things,” King said. “They have to understand the universe of a playbook. They have to understand their specific role. An offensive lineman has to understand their specific role. They have to understand their blocking assignments on every play. They have to understand the physical mechanics of how to stop a defensive lineman from getting to the quarterback. They have to understand techniques like the kick slide, that allows him to move laterally when someone is trying to sweep around the edge.
“A quarterback does not have to know those things; it is not relevant to his universe, which is knowing how to hand the ball off to the running back, knowing how to read coverage — read the defense — (and) knowing how to throw the ball mechanically to a wide receiver. … (Mariota’s) job is to get better at quarterback for his team.”
Mark McDougal of Brenner’s legal team from Kafoury & McDougal and Eiva Law, countered by saying that the assertions being made in UO’s objection as to prejudice in the expertise of the former Ducks players about Brenner’s pro potential was invalid.
“All you have right now is representations by a lawyer that you have to be a specialist to have knowledge in this area,” McDougal said. “That’s not the way the world works. … All we’re talking about — let’s not glorify this and make football something so special. It’s just football, I’m sorry.”
Rigmaiden ruled it would be “premature” to limit the testimony of Mariota, Mondeaux and Crosby, without hearing their scope of expertise and she would reserve ruling on the issue. Brenner’s legal team said they will lay the foundation for that testimony when the former players appear before the court by video this week.
Brenner was one of three UO football players hospitalized with rhabdomyolysis following strenuous workouts that the team was instructed to perform during its first three days of winter strength and conditioning in January 2017.
All three players eventually returned to the football field, but Brenner’s 2017 season ended early, due in part to a hip injury. His attorneys are arguing that was made more likely by his hospitalization months earlier, and that those issues combined to adversely affect Brenner’s ability to be in the best position possible to present himself to NFL teams at the end of his college career.
He is seeking $125.5 million in the case: $100 million in punitive damages against the NCAA, $20 million for pain and suffering and $5.5 million for past and future medical expenses from UO, Taggart and Oderinde.
Much of Monday’s 105-minute hearing in the case addressed objections in deposition testimony that will be presented this week by Brenner’s lawyers in their on-camera interviews with NCAA president Mark Emmert, NCAA vice president of enforcement Jonathan Duncan and NCAA chief medical officer Dr. Brian Hainlin. None of them will attend the trial in person and could not be subpoenaed by Brenner’s lawyers to do so.
David Fuad, one of the NCAA’s lawyers from Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, objected on grounds of prejudice about a portion of the deposition from Emmert that referenced an unrelated case involving a brain injury.
“They are importing the importance of a brain injury case into this case,” Fuad said.
Rigmaiden overruled the NCAA’s objection and said she could provide the jury with a “limiting instruction” if asked.
“I think the brain injury part is directly relevant to the punitive damages on whether the NCAA has acted with reckless disregard for risk to students and the seriousness of that case versus the response from the NCAA would go toward that,” she said. “I’m going to limit that to punitive and not negligent in this case.”
In another portion of Emmert’s deposition, the head of the NCAA had difficulty recalling details about one of a number of task forces that have examined offseason strength and conditioning workouts in college sports.
“The name of this task force to which he was invited, ‘preventing sudden death in sport by addressing strength and conditioning sessions,’” said Greg Kafoury, of Brenner’s legal team. “They’re being sued for a strength and conditioning session and even after all this preparation, ‘I don’t know.’ That shows something.”
Fuad objected, but was overruled again by Rigmaiden.
“I think his lack of knowledge, is what’s being argued by the plaintiff shows indifference,” Rigmaiden said. “Lack of memory — you can argue it doesn’t; it just shows a lack of memory — but it doesn’t mean it’s not relevant.”
Witness testimony continues Tuesday morning. “At the very least,” Rigmaiden said, closing arguments are expected to be completed by the end of May 6.