Ex-Iowa Player Sues over University’s Dangerous Workout Program

One of 13 University of Iowa football players who were hospitalized after a high-intensity workout three years ago says his injuries were preventable but caused lasting harm, explained in his first lawsuit.

Former Hawkeyes cornerback William Lowe of Cleveland alleges in a lawsuit filed in Johnson County district court that coaches and trainers failed to properly supervise him during his January 20, 2011 workout. He also states that the school failed to offer medical care after he and others initially reported severe pain and complained of symptoms, and that his injuries were aggravated because he was required to participate in additional workouts in the following days.

Lowe states that the team was negligent in “developing and implementing a dangerous improper training program” and should have to pay unspecified damages for his pain and suffering.

A spokesman for the athletics department and the university declined to comment about the lawsuit.

Lowe and 12 others were hospitalized following their workout at the start of winter training. They were diagnosed with exertional rhabdomyolysis, the result of muscles breaking down and releasing proteins into the bloodstream, which can cause kidney failure.

The workout was only held about once every three years to test physical stamina, mental toughness and to see who “wanted to be on the team,” according to an investigative committee report commissioned by the school.

Players were asked to perform 100 back squats at 50 percent of their most recent personal best.  A study by University of Iowa doctors published last year concluded that those back squats were “significantly associated” with an increased risk of rhabdomyolysis – with the affected players more likely to think they could compete the untimed workout despite muscle failure.

In his lawsuit, Lowe alleges that he and others reported “substantial leg pain and stiffness, as well as abnormally dark urine” after that workout and fatigue that was atypical. Despite these reports, Lowe says he and the others were required to participate in a mandatory intensive workout the following day focusing on their upper body muscles.

After taking the weekend off, players had another mandatory workout January 24th. Within hours, Lowe and others started showing up at the hospital and were diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis.

Lowe says he was spent several days in the hospital but he still suffered from weight loss, pain in his lower back and legs, headaches and high blood pressure over the next several months. The 24-year-old says he suffered mental and physical pain and anguish, which has required ongoing expenses for medical care, therapy, drugs and other treatment.

Lowe’s injuries could have been avoided “through safe and proper athletic training and supervision,” the lawsuit reads.

This incident caused a public relations nightmare for coach Kirk Ferentz and this prompted the university to form the investigative committee. Ten recommendations were made, most notably that the team should remove this particular workout and develop better ways to identify players who are suffering from health complications during workouts and practices.

Many college athletes are reluctant to come forward and complain for fear they will never get to play.

The committee cleared the players, trainers and coaches of wrongdoing, determining that the injuries were not the fault of those who designed the workout.

Ferentz said in March 2011 at the beginning of spring practice that all 13 players had been medically cleared to return. But Lowe, who hardly played in three seasons at Iowa, never rejoined the team.

Lowe is seeking unspecified monetary damages.

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