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WASHINGTON— A Democratic congressman compared the NCAA to the Mafia over how it controls the lives of student athletes.

“I think they’re just one of the most vicious, most ruthless organizations ever created by mankind,” Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush said of the NCAA at a congressional forum on college sports Tuesday. “I think you would compare the NCAA to Al Capone and to the Mafia.”

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Rush made the accusations at the forum called to look at the impact of “back-room deals, payoffs and scandals” in college sports.

The NCAA declined to respond to Rush’s comments.

The congressman spoke after hearing from a couple of mothers of former student-athletes who complained of ill treatment by schools after their sons suffered injuries.

One mother, Valerie Hardrick, said the University of Oklahoma refused to grant a waiver for medical hardship that would allow her son, Kyle Hardrick, to play basketball at junior college after transferring from OU. Prior to Tuesday’s forum, Hardrick’s family provided to The Associated Press documentation showing that team doctors diagnosed him with a torn meniscus in his knee and wrote down on practice logs that he should be held out because he was hurt. Hardrick’s family says the university has refused to pursue the waiver unless the family agrees to a settlement that would prohibit him or his family members from enrolling at Oklahoma or any of the universities governed by its board of regents. The proposed settlement also would prevent the Hardricks from filing a lawsuit against the university.

“My insurance does not cover all of Kyle’s medical bills,” an emotional Valerie Hardrick said. “The university of Oklahoma refused to pay for Kyle’s surgery, his rehab, and his medication. The university actions also allowed Kyle to be released without appropriate medical treatment before consulting his original surgeon.”

Kyle Hardrick, a forward who played a total of 6 minutes during his two seasons with the Sooners, said he has since transferred to a community college in Kansas but isn’t able to play without the waiver.

Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione did not respond to messages left by phone and email. Oklahoma compliance director Jason Leonard has said he cannot comment because of medical privacy laws.

The NCAA requires schools to certify that an athlete has insurance coverage for athletically-related injuries, up to the deductible of the NCAA Catastrophic Injury Insurance Program (currently $90,000). That insurance can be offered by the school, a parent or a personal policy of the athlete.

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