The NCAA is facing four wrongful death lawsuits over football head injuries. Former college football players and their families claim the organization failed to protect them from injuries and resulting brain damage, including the degenerative disease, CTE.
For five years, Diantha Stensrud watched her husband, Rod, disappear into the fog of Alzheimer's.
"It was horrible. The worst nightmare," Stensrud told "CBS This Morning," adding, "To see him suffer was – it was just terrible."
Old photos show Rod as a UCLA football player with a big smile. But his widow said the hits he took on the field cost him his mind. Doctors diagnosed him with early-onset Alzheimer's at age 55, reports CBS News correspondent Anna Werner.
Rod told CBS station KPIX of his fears about his declining abilities in 2008.
"If it gets so bad, I would, if I couldn't dress myself or go to the bathroom or something like that, that's probably my fear," Rod said.
He died three years later at age 60.
His widow is now one of potentially thousands of people suing the NCAA, alleging the association failed to protect college players from head injuries for decades. The NCAA declined an on-camera interview but said in a statement it "works with its members to support a healthy and safe environment for college athletes through providing guidance and resources endorsed by a broad coalition of the scientific and medical communities." They also called the lawsuits "unwarranted" and "inappropriate."
"As the cases progress, you will see that that is not true," said Rafey Balabanian, an attorney with Edelson PC. "They knew very early on the science behind this... They covered it up, and ignored it year after year. And that's the truth."
"Flat out you're saying, 'The NCAA is guilty of a cover-up'?" Werner asked.
"Absolutely, they're guilty of both a cover-up and willful disregard for the health and safety of their students," Balabanian said.
A Boston University study of former football players brains donated to the found degenerative brain disease, known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which is associated with concussions and other head trauma, in 91 percent of the former college players' brains.
"I think we're only seeing the beginnings of this," said Chris Nowinski, who leads the Concussion Legacy Foundation and is the author of "Head Games: The Global Concussion Crisis." "I think it's likely that there are more college football players suffering from CTE than there are former NFL players in terms of gross numbers."
Former Ohio State and Cincinnati Bengals player Ray Griffin said the hundreds of hits he took in the 1970s left him cognitively impaired.
"We gave up our futures for them. We gave up our brains for them," Griffin said.
"So what did they tell you about concussions in college?" Werner asked.
"They told us nothing about concussions in college," Griffin responded.
He's also suing – not just for himself, he said, but for the thousands of other former players.
"It's not just my fight. It's their fight as well," Griffin said. "I want to be able to provide them with the benefits they need to take care of themselves. These people need financial help. College players have definitely been forgotten about. They never made a dime playing college football though the university made millions of dollars off of their services but they never made a thing. And they struggle in their life today."
The NCAA told us it is conducting what it calls "the most comprehensive clinical and advanced research study of concussion and head impact ever undertaken," in partnership with the Department of Defense. Griffin is part of an ongoing CTE study trying to find a way to diagnose people who have it while they are alive, instead of only looking at their brains after death.
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