Linda Will, the mother of late Northwestern football player Rashidi Wheeler, was awarded an estimated $10.7 million Friday, 70% of the $16-million settlement the university agreed to pay last year to end a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Wheeler's family after his 2001 practice-field death.
Wheeler's brothers, George III and Hershel Jr., received 5% each in the allocation order by Cook County (Ill.) Judge Kathy Flanagan, who mandated that $665,000 be subtracted from the settlement for damages and claims connected to the Survival Act and Wrongful Death. Wheeler's father, George Wheeler Jr., was awarded more than $3 million -- a 20% total that angered Will, who said she intended to appeal it in an effort to reduce her former husband's payout.
"For him to get 20% is an insult," Will said. "Rashidi never intended for his father to become a millionaire off of him. If [he] thinks he's retiring off of my son's blood, sweat and tears, hell no."
Phone messages left for George Wheeler's attorney in Chicago were not immediately returned. Rashidi Wheeler, raised in Ontario and a graduate of La Verne Damien High, was a 22-year-old starting safety at Northwestern when he collapsed Aug. 3, 2001, while trying to complete a rigorous set of timed wind sprints -- a drill that violated NCAA rules for voluntary practices. Although the university contended that Wheeler's ingestion of ephedra-containing pills and drink mix played a role in his death, the Cook County coroner ruled Wheeler had died of exercise-induced bronchial asthma.
The judge supported her allocation to the father by pointing to a 2001 Father's Day card Rashidi wrote: "When a child, especially a boy, grows up, there is no better teacher than a father, and I am learning from the best."