Doughty says he rested in the locker room for five minutes and then finished the game. But when it comes to protecting players, who generate billions of dollars every year, from having to pay unanticipated medical bills or ensuring they receive superior, impartial healthcare, there are no official NCAA provisions in place.Thus, when a player is injured, nothing prevents the athletic director from refusing to pay related medical bills—which sometimes keep coming for years.He thought back to the injuries he suffered while playing at South Carolina. The first was a helmet-to-helmet collision during a 2004 practice.

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Arian Foster, who now plays for the Houston Texans, ran the ball into the end zone, barreling into Doughty and leaving him momentarily unable to move, similar to what happened after his previous 2004 hit. Records also show that Doughty's spine had become more deformed between the time of his first examination and that done by the Chiefs, which could mean that he had further injured himself during the second hit against Tennessee or another unrecognized play. Would the university pay for the surgery he needed?

But this time team doctors didn't take him for a MRI. He'd need surgery to prevent his symptoms, limited use of his right arm and a burning sensation, from worsening. Upon joining a Division I team, every participant must have insurance and undergo a medical examination before playing.

It was April 28, 2007, and the bayou weather had already grown hot and humid.

Doughty—all 325 pounds of him—lounged on the left side of the couch with his father, Hollis, on the right, and his mother, Sandra, in the recliner: their usual arrangement.

The silver Sanyo television was set to ESPN, where NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was calling the names of the 255 players picked in that year's draft.

For Doughty, a promising defensive tackle who had just finished his junior year at the University of South Carolina, it was a tense moment. "It was emotional for all of us." Doughty and his two siblings grew up in poverty.

But there's little way to know who does and who doesn't—and these sparse guidelines can leave some student-athletes dangerously exposed.

Off Louisiana Highway 16, down a dirt road, and another dirt road, to where the road ends, Stanley Doughty sat with his family inside the doublewide mobile home he grew up in.

He also struggled academically, overwhelmed by a curriculum that bore little resemblance to the education offered at his rural high school.

He didn't always make the best choices, but he pushed through.

When he left for the draft, Doughty was only 12 credits shy of a degree.