The parents of a college football star who killed himself last year after suffering from depression and a brain injury are suing the school, the NCAA, and his coach for ignoring his pleas for help and forcing him to play.
Nahje Flowers, a promising young football player at the University of New Mexico, was found dead last year from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. A few days before his death, the student-athlete sought treatment for depression and suicidal thoughts, and a doctor advised him not to play, the family’s lawyer Bob Hillard said.
The school’s psychiatrist prescribed antidepressants to the 21-year-old and instructed that he sit out for at least two games, Hillard said.
But despite Flowers’ concerns, his coach overruled the doctor’s advice and forced him to get back on the field, and he died shortly afterward, his devastated parents said.
“There was no protocol in place, or if there was, it was ignored, which makes it worse,” Hilliard stated. “The doctor was concerned enough to say you shouldn’t play but that was overruled because there was a game coming up.”
On Tuesday, Flowers’ father, La’Vonte Flowers, and his mother, Vickie Gilmore, sued the University of New Mexico, the NCAA, and Coach Robert Davie, alleging negligence when Coach Davies overruled a doctor and forced their son to take the field.
“For him to go there, do everything right, as he was told to do and he wasn’t heard from the college nor his head coach – and we brought him out there for a better education – it hurts both of us,” Flowers’ father La’Monte said. “We have a hole in our hearts every day.”
An autopsy later confirmed that 21-year-old Flowers had CTE, Hillard said.
“What we have learned is that the university’s football program carried more weight than the health and welfare of their student-athletes and the consequences were devastating to this family,” Hillard said Tuesday. “He found no way out, except to take his own life.”
Hillard’s co-counsel, civil rights attorney Ben Crump, said the lawsuit was all about accountability and ensuring that the university, the school, and Coach Davie take responsibility for not protecting Flowers.
“We intend to make sure this family gets the apology they deserve from these entities and individuals involved,” Crump said. “And even though there’s no amount that could pay their debt, we hope it can send a message that the next child who is struggling with mental health is treated better than Nahje Flowers.”
Flowers’ mom, Vickie, said they trusted Coach Davie to guide their son in their absence and hoped he’d come back to them with a good education.
“I never imagined he would return home by funeral arrangements,” the distraught mom said.
The goal of the suit is to shine a light on the need to protect athletes and make sure that coaches no longer have the final say on a player’s health, Hilliard said.
“If a coach gets to overrule a doctor for a win, then you’re gonna have another Nahje Flowers,” Hillard said.
None of the defendants has responded to the case as of Tuesday.
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