Former soccer player seeks $75,000, accuses Baylor for traumatic brain injuries

Former midfielder Eva Mitchell filed a complaint for neurological damage she alleges she received while a member of the soccer team. Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics

By Marquis Cooley | Sports Editor

Former Baylor University soccer player Eva Mitchell filed a civil action complaint and jury trial demand against Baylor University on Thursday. The midfielder transfer from the University of Kentucky alleges she suffered traumatic brain injuries after being forced to participate in dangerous header drills during practice.

The lawsuit was filed in Waco’s U.S. District Court by attorneys Robert Stem and Jason Luckasevic and states that Mitchell is seeking a minimum of $75,000 for neurological damage she allegedly received during her time as a member of the Baylor women’s soccer team, spanning from the spring semester of 2019 through the fall season of 2020, that has caused her to be unable to function without assistance for the last 18 months. It also claims she may never fully recover from her injuries.

According to the lawsuit, Baylor was aware of the dangerous practices and increased risk of acute and chronic brain damage that they presented, yet neglected to protect its athletes and prevent any of the injuries Mitchell sustained, which required her to take a leave of absence from school. The injuries listed in the lawsuit include persistent and debilitating dizziness, post-concussion syndrome, persistent postural-perceptual dizziness, central vestibular disorder, dysautonomia, depression and anxiety.

Baylor spokesperson Lori Fogleman said in a statement to the Lariat that “it’s difficult to respond to a lawsuit that has not been shared with the University.”

“Baylor is unequivocally committed to providing our student-athletes with the latest in safe, effective training and sports medicine care,” Fogleman said. “While our thoughts and prayers continue to be with this former student-athlete, we look forward to having the opportunity to refute these allegations in a respectful manner and in an appropriate legal venue.”

The lawsuit accuses former head coach Paul Jobson of being “an aggressive coach who subjected the women on the soccer team to repetitive, brutal, dangerous, and unnecessary heading drills during practice,” leading to Mitchell’s injuries.

“‘Heading’ places a great deal of strain on the player’s head and neck, and increases the risk of players, like Eva Mitchell, sustaining head and neck injuries, including, but not limited to, strains, concussions, and whiplash,” the lawsuit claims.

Jobson resigned on Nov. 16, 2021 following 14 seasons with the program, the last nine of which he served as head coach, saying that “God was calling him to something new.”

“Coach Jobson’s resignation was unrelated to the allegations being made in this lawsuit,” Fogleman said.

One instance of a dangerous practice described in the lawsuit is from a practice on a cold day in February of 2019, in which Jobson and his staff allegedly “shot overinflated soccer balls from a mechanical device with the velocity turned up approximately 70 yards away, and the players were required to ‘head’ the ball.”

The lawsuit claims that Baylor was the only women’s soccer program in the country utilizing this drill along with others in which the coaches would repeatedly punt overinflated balls the width of the field and require the girls to advance the ball as far as possible using their heads. It also claims that the machine utilized by the coaching staff was not intended to repeatedly shoot balls at players heads, nor intended to be turned up to a high velocity and use overinflated balls for purposes of conducting repeated headers.

According to the lawsuit, Mitchell felt like “her brain was smashed” after taking the first header during the drill but was required to do an additional “seven to eight.” It also claims after the practice, most of the women complained about pain due to the drill and that Mitchell reported to a team athletic trainer, Kristin Bartiss, about her headaches and concussion symptoms.

The lawsuit claims Mitchell was diagnosed with a concussion following the drill, and that her father, Doug Mitchell, spoke with Bartiss about his daughter’s injuries and she indicated that Mitchell’s concussion was likely caused by her weak neck, along with the coach using overinflated balls shot too hard out of a ball-launching machine which were hardened even further by the cold weather.

According to the lawsuit, in August of 2020, in preparation for the upcoming season, Jobson and the staff allegedly continued “unnecessary, aggressive, and repetitive header drills.” It also reports Mitchell “felt threatened to participate” because Jobson had removed her from a game during the previous season after “failing to ‘head’ a line drive shot during a game.”

The lawsuit claims that Mitchell sustained her second diagnosed concussion during practice over a three-day period of practices which involved “continuous and repetitive punting and machine ball header drills as previously described with overinflated balls, shot from a long distance with extreme velocity and force.” It also claims that as a result of the concussion, Mitchell experienced “significant injuries, pain and suffering, to which she continues to suffer this day.”

“Ms. Mitchell’s injuries were so bad from her second diagnosed concussion that she had difficulty walking in her home and requires full-time assistance of her parents to assist with her activities of daily living,” the lawsuit claims. “Ms. Mitchell continues to receive treatment for her injuries, and it is unclear whether she will ever make a neurological recovery from the concussion she sustained in August 2020.”