The family of a former player for the heralded Mater Dei High School football team is suing the school for negligence, alleging he was severely injured in a team hazing ritual known as "Bodies'' in which two players repeatedly land body punches on each other until one surrenders, it was reported Wednesday.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Orange County Superior Court, accuses the team's head coach, Bruce Rollinson, of having an "outrageous'' dismissive attitude about the "dangers created by Bodies,'' the Orange County Register reported.
"This is especially true in light of the fact that the administration and coaches at Mater Dei valued the school's status as a nationally recognized football powerhouse over the health and safety of its minor athletes,'' the suit states, according to the Register.
The suit alleges negligence, negligence per se-hazing in violation of California penal code, negligent failure to warn, train, or educate, intentional infliction of emotional distress. In a statement to the Register, Mater Dei officials said, "An independent, thorough investigation was conducted. We are unable to comment further due to the involvement of minors.''
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Rollinson did not respond to the paper's requests for comment.
According to the paper, the then-Mater Dei player took part in the Bodies ritual in February, squaring off against a teammate who was 50 pounds heavier. The smaller player — identified only as Player 1 — suffered a traumatic brain injury, two gashes over his right eye, one over his left eye and a broken nose that required surgery, according to the Register, which reviewed four police reports, surgeon's reports, medical records, emails from Mater Dei, letters, forms, records, memos, two videos and court filings.
Player 1 later withdrew from Mater Dei. The other player involved, Player 2, remains on the team.
According to the Register, court documents contend that Rollinson told Player 1's family that he was in a "bind'' in terms of disciplining Player 2, because that player's father is a volunteer coach for the team.
The paper reported that Mater Dei officials initially declined to cooperate with Santa Ana Police Department investigators looking into the fight, and during later interviews with police, denied hazing existed in the Mater Dei football program.
The Orange County District Attorney's Office declined to file any charges over the fight that led to Player 1's injuries, saying in part that it viewed the altercation as a case of mutual combat. In a statement, the office said, "Neither player involved in this fight was made to participate against their will. Other players in the locker room were seen milling around, playing on their phones, and largely uninterested in the punches being thrown by two of their teammates. The participants knew they were being filmed and they started throwing punches. Some punches landed; others did not, but it is unequivocally clear that both participants attempted to land as many punches as possible.
"There is not a single shred of evidence to show that this was anything other than a mutual combat situation with two willing participants who traded blow for blow, including repeated punches to each other’s heads. That does not make it acceptable. But it is not a crime."
Mater Dei sent out a new statement Nov. 24 after media began picking up the story: "Nothing is more important to me than the health, safety, security, and well-being of all students entrusted to our care at Mater Dei High School. As many of you may have seen, recent media coverage references deeply disturbing accusations about our football program and administration, suggesting they acted in conflict with our steadfast commitment to student safety. In light of pending litigation and privacy constraints, I am limited in my ability to address the matter with our community.
"It pains me to hear about any student suffering harm of any kind on our campus. My heartfelt prayers go out to the affected student and family. Please know that we take the matter seriously and commit to you that all aspects will be handled consistently and in accordance with the core values of our institution. At this time, I respectfully ask for your faith and trust as we navigate the process ahead, and kindly request that you respect the privacy and dignity of all involved."