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Former Rams great Isiah ‘Butch’ Robertson had CTE, family says in wrongful death suit against NCAA

Former Rams linebacker Isiah Robertson poses in front of a fence and a school bus at his Texas rehab center in 2007
A lawsuit filed on behalf of Isiah Robertson’s family states the Rams linebacker was diagnosed with CTE after his death in 2018.
(D.J. Peters / For The Times)

Isiah “Butch” Robertson, the hard-hitting All-Pro linebacker who starred for the Rams in the 1970s, had an advanced case of a neurodegenerative disease linked to repeated brain trauma, according to a wrongful death lawsuit filed Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court on behalf of his family.

The lawsuit against the NCAA said Robertson was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy after he died in a car accident in December 2018 at age 69. According to the suit, he had Stage 3 of the disease, with Stage 4 being the most serious.

“Later in life, Isiah’s mental and physical health began to deteriorate,” the 14-page complaint said. “Isiah began to experience sleep disturbances, headaches, outbursts, loss of ability to control his emotions, trouble recalling information, anger management issues, reckless behavior, and a lack of a filter when speaking.”

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According to the lawsuit, Robertson “sustained numerous brain injuries” while playing at Southern University in Louisiana from 1967 to 1970 without “adequate concussion management protocols or policies in place to address and treat brain injuries sustained by Isiah and others during practices and in games.”

The lawsuit, which doesn’t name the school as a defendant, accuses the NCAA of not educating football players about brain injuries and not implementing various rules to protect those who suffered concussions.

“As a direct and proximate result of the NCAA’s conduct, Isaiah sustained serious injuries and death,” the complaint said.

The NCAA didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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At least seven other lawsuits related to football and brain injuries have been filed against the NCAA in L.A. County Superior Court since 2018.

During 111 games with the Rams from 1971 to 1978, Robertson intercepted 25 passes, made the Pro Bowl six times and helped the team win six division titles. He also spent four seasons with the Buffalo Bills.

After football, Robertson established the House of Isaiah in Mabank, Texas, to treat men addicted to drugs or alcohol.

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For more than a decade, researchers trying to make sense of the mysterious degenerative brain disease afflicting football players and other contact-sport athletes have focused on the threat posed by concussions.

Robertson died after a three-car accident on a highway near Mabank that the lawsuit described “as a result of his reckless behavior.” Authorities said the former linebacker drove a limousine around a curve too fast in rainy conditions. The limousine skidded, another automobile hit it and propelled it into oncoming traffic, where it collided with a third automobile.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages from the NCAA.


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