MARBLE FALLS, Texas (KXAN) — Each day, Blake Ripple takes pills and wears transdermal patches to help ease the pain. He has seen multiple doctors and neurologists, including some at the Mayo Clinic. They told him he has suffered between 30-40 mild to major concussions which have led to the chronic nausea and vomiting that make it difficult to sleep.
Blake Ripple is just 23 years old.
“The neurologist told me to imagine that my nerves are like a highway. Right now, my highway is cracked and there are bumps everywhere,” he said.
He said the damage to his head is the result of playing nose guard for the Marble Falls High School football team. Towering over six feet tall, Ripple said he had drawn interest from college programs and had his sights set on TCU. But being one of the biggest players on the field, he often drew double or even triple-teams from opponents. As a result, the helmet-to-helmet impacts started piling up.
And so did the pressure.
“I was young and impressionable and these coaches have control. They have control over your life and destiny in a sense.”
On Wednesday, Ripple and his family filed a federal lawsuit against the Marble Falls Independent School District. The suit claims team staff knew about Ripple’s medical condition, which included head injuries, but did not handle those injuries with care and put him into physical practice and game situations against doctor recommendations. After a trip to the Mayo Clinic prior to his senior season in 2010, his mother urged him to stop playing football.
He wishes he would have listened. “I pushed it and the coaches pushed it, and here I am now,” he said. Now any college dreams have been dashed and the lawsuit describes Blake as “incapacitated” and needing help from a guardian.
Ripple and his family filed a lawsuit in 2012 against the district, but it was dismissed on summary judgment in 2015. Their attorney, Martin Cirkiel, told KXAN the original suit was dismissed because the case had to first go through an administrative process. He said they are re-filing the case because those administrative processes have now been completed.
Marble Falls ISD said they cannot comment on pending lawsuits, but said they do follow the concussion protocol laid out by the University Interscholastic League and regularly review policies to ensure students are safe during all school activities.
Local and state government agencies and school districts are largely protected from lawsuits by “sovereign immunity.” However, Ripple’s suit against MFISD is based on Title IX and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Title IX is a federal law protecting against gender discrimination in educational programs. The lawsuit claims Ripple’s injuries would have been handled with more care with a female student. Under ADA, the suit alleges the school failed to make changes to policy or training after Ripple suffered several concussions that left him disabled.
Since the time in 2009 when he began to experience pain in his head, Ripple says much more information about traumatic head injuries connected to football has been spotlighted. In recent years, the National Football League has faced scrutiny and lawsuits pertaining to medical treatment for concussions and other head injuries.
If Blake knew back then what is starting to be known now, he thinks he would have pushed back on the team staff.
“I probably would have told them I need more time and that I need to do it my way and the doctor’s way.”
During the 2013 legislative session, Ripple spoke before the Texas House of Representatives in support of a proposed bill which would limit the amount of time teams could practice full contact drills. The bill did not pass, but Ripple wants to keep others from suffering the way he does each day.
“I hope I can be an advocate and save someone’s life.”