UC Berkeley agrees to safety measures after cheerleader concussion case

January 23, 2023 Updated: January 23, 2023 5:10 p.m.

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UC Berkley Cheerleaders at Berkeley Vs. They will play against Stanford on November 19, 2016 in Berkeley, California.

Former UC Berkeley cheerleader Melissa Martin sued the university over claims she was told to keep cheering despite being hit.

High-flying cheerleaders at UC Berkeley sporting events will get new protections and training under a $695,000 settlement with a former student who suffered three concussions in five months in 2017-18.


2019 case

against the university, Melissa Martin said aerial athletes such as divers and gymnasts were closely watched by coaches, trainers and doctors for signs of injury, but cheerleaders performing equally risky maneuvers were not given that monitoring. Instead, he said, he was pressured to participate in team practices and games after suffering a head injury while practicing an aerial maneuver in September 2017, and suffered two more concussions before leaving the team in February 2017.

Martin, now 27, told The Chronicle Monday that he is still recovering from brain damage and has a “24-7 headache.”


In the settlement, UC Berkeley will provide an athletic trainer for its cheerleading squads as they resume stunting, or aerial flips and flips, which have been halted during the pandemic. Participants will receive injury monitoring and treatment, and cheerleaders and coaches will receive safety training, similar to procedures already in place for student athletes. Any signs of injury will be reported immediately to the student health center. The university, while denying any wrongdoing, will also pay $695,000 to Martin and his lawyers.

“Hopefully, the fix will not only impact Cal in a positive way, but will signal to the entire cheer community that our brains are important, too,” Martin said.

In a statement, UC Berkeley’s Athletic Program said, “The safety of all our students has been and continues to be a top priority. Staff working with the cheerleading program have and will continue to have the necessary certifications and training from their national cheer and dance associations, which is , including concussion education.

Martin, a gymnast for 14 years, joined the cheerleading team in the fall of 2017 and was hit in the head during a practice in October. After experiencing severe headaches, nausea and dizziness for the next three days, he called his trainer, Lisa Keys, and told him he was going to see a doctor, but Keys told him not to because “we really need you” at the next football game. , the suit said.

Martin went to the doctor anyway and was diagnosed with a concussion and told to rest. But Keys again ordered him to go to practice and play the next match, Martin said. He said he later saw the university’s concussion specialist, Dr. Kent Scheff, who told him not to do any physical activity, but backed off when informed of the coach’s edict.

Martin was kicked again in the head during a game in November, at which point Keys told him to drive himself to the UC health services office more than a mile away, the suit says. He was diagnosed with a stroke again and was sidelined for several months. But Scheff said she was cleared to return to cheerleading in February, against standard concussion protocol. The next day, Martin hit his head during warmups for a basketball game.

He left the group soon after. Suffering from headaches, nausea and light sensitivity, he tried to re-enroll at Berkeley in the fall, but had to withdraw, the suit says, while UC Berkeley only refunded half of his tuition. He graduated in 2019, worked at a tech company in the Bay Area, now lives in Milwaukee, and this spring has been accepted to a distance learning course at Harvard for executives who help corporations and nonprofits make their operations climate-friendly.

“I still feel nauseous, sensitive to lights and sounds, but I’m trying to do things, go to concerts,” he said in an interview. “Hopefully one day I’ll be symptom-free.”

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