UC Berkeley senior and former campus cheerleader Melissa Martin suffered three concussions in the span of four months.
Now Martin is suing her coaches, the school and USA Cheer for allegedly not taking proper actions to prevent these injuries. Martin filed the lawsuit Wednesday in Alameda County Superior Court with Andrus Anderson LLP.
“The University of California should be leading the charge in concussion prevention,” said Martin’s attorney Jennie Lee Anderson in a Business Wire press release. Anderson also alleged in the press release that the cheer coaches forced Martin to perform while she was recovering from her concussions.
Martin was part of UC Berkeley’s cheerleading team and STUNT team from April 2017 until February 2018, when she had to withdraw because of her injuries.
According to the suit, Martin received the first concussion in October 2017 when she was kicked in the head during practice. Allegedly, assistant coach Jessica Chatto witnessed this, but no one had checked Martin for signs of a concussion. A few days later, according to the suit, Martin visited University Health Services — allegedly against head coach Lisa Key’s advice — where it was confirmed that she had a concussion.
A month later, before she was cleared to return to normal physical activity, Keys allegedly pressured Martin to cheer at a football game, during which she was kicked in the head again, receiving her second concussion.
In February, the university concussion specialist cleared Martin for all physical activity, at which time Martin claimed to still be experiencing symptoms from her injuries. One day later, she retained another head injury while cheering at a basketball game, according to the suit.
Two weeks after her third injury, Martin quit the team because “it was not possible for her to care for her brain injury and comply with coaches’ instructions as required,” according to the suit.
Her case seeks damages and for USA Cheer, the sport’s governing body, to implement more effective protocols for cheerleaders with concussions.
Martin had to withdraw from school in September 2018 because her symptoms were interfering with her ability to study.
Martin said in a statement to The Daily Californian she is still in the process of healing. She is currently back at UC Berkeley for her last semester.
“Cal Athletics closely follows the dictates of a comprehensive policy on concussion management,” said campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof. “Cal’s cheerleading coach maintains safety certification from several national agencies.”
According to the lawsuit, however, after Martin left the team, she attempted to work with the university to implement better concussion protocols, but she had little success.
“While there has been a lot of attention around concussion risks for young men in football, there has not been a corresponding level of concern about head injuries for young women participating in cheerleading programs,” Anderson said in the press release.