Pop Warner Football Concussion Lawsuit May Impact the Future of the Sport

October 7th, 2016 by Attorney Julie Butcher

Lawsuits have been filed by professional football and hockey players as well as professional wrestlers due to the long-term harm done by concussions. A proposed class action lawsuit filed in August against Pop Warner and other youth football-related organizations over brain damage suffered by players could mean changes for youth football, starting with helmets, reports Vice Sports.

Novelty toy helmets are subject to a number of federal safety regulations to protect children under age 12 from things such as unacceptable lead levels and small parts which can be choking hazards.  But the athletic helmets worn by Kentucky kids playing full-contact Pop Warner football are unregulated.

Adult helmets are subject to safety standards set by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE), a nonprofit funded by the sporting goods industry. But the standards do not cover youth models, despite the fact that scientific evidence suggests children are uniquely vulnerable to brain injuries.

Sports safety advocate Kimberly Archie lobbied Congress about brain injuries earlier this year. She talked about her son, Paul Bright, Jr., who played eight years of Pop Warner football. He later had mood and behavior problems and was 24 when he was killed in a motorcycle accident. After an autopsy, he was diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated head trauma common among professional football players.

Kimberly Archie and another mother, Jo Cornell, whose son also played Pop Warner football, suffered behavior problems, committed suicide and was posthumously diagnosed with CTE, are named plaintiffs on a new lawsuit that claims Pop Warner, NOCSAE and USA Football (the nation’s youth football governing body) negligently exposed children to both brain damage and increased risk of brain damage. The legal action poses the question: Should society regulate youth tackle football and its equipment as a way to protect children or take a hands-off approach we have reserved for sports?

The legal action filed in federal court in California seeks to represent every current and former Pop Warner player since 1997. It alleges that:

  • Pop Warner, NOCSAE and USA Football failed to uphold their duties to provide for the safety and health of child athletes, some as young as five years old, and
  • Misled and deceived parents and players about the sport’s brain damage risks.

One of the allegations is that Pop Warner claimed that its volunteers and coaches were extensively trained while the reality was much different. Executive director Jon Butler admitted in a separate brain injury case that the organization does not check to see if coaches receive such training, and the organization has no employee with “a medical background, athletic training background, or physical education background.”

This lawsuit is different than the lawsuits filed by former professional athletes in that the proposed class action doesn’t concern the responsibilities of employers to grown men paid to play dangerous sports. It covers children, toward whom the law traditionally has been much more protective. Those running the defendant organizations are adults and are able to judge the risks of playing football in potentially defective equipment. But for many kids who suffered brain injuries playing football, that judgment wasn’t what it should’ve been.

If you or a loved one in Kentucky has suffered brain injuries due to the negligence of another party, call the Julie Butcher Law Office at 859-233-3641 or fill out our contact form to talk about your case, applicable laws and your legal options.