More Than A Headache for Youth Football Professionals

By: Elida Alfaro

Pop Warner Little Scholars Inc., USA Football, and National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (hereinafter “NOCSAE”) have recently been named in a putative class action suit for their alleged failure to implement safety protocols to protect their youth athletes from head trauma.[1] This recent allegation follows shortly after Pop Warner’s recent settlement for a prior youth participant who committed suicide and was later diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (“CTE”).[2]

Enrolling approximately 250,000 young athletes in their tackle football program each year, Pop Warner spans across forty-two states and is purported to sponsor programs abroad.[3] Funded by the NFL, Pop Warner recently entered into a partnership agreement with USA Football where their combined efforts have resulted in widespread implementation of the Heads Up program.[4] Boasting that this program will create “the new standard in football,” Heads Up’s goal is to ensure that all coaches are USA Football certified and have the ability to teach their young athletes safer blocking and tackling techniques.[5] Claiming to be “safer than soccer,” Pop Warner asserts that they have twelve percent fewer injuries per capita than organized soccer in the same age range.[6]
Despite Pop Warner’s alleged statistical success, parents of young athletes enrolled in the youth tackle football program claim that they have yet to see the benefits.[7] With accusations ranging from misrepresentation in safety protocol to Pop Warner’s failure to investigate coaches physical education or medical training background, these allegations attack the heart of both Pop Warner’s and USA Football’s missions.[8] NOCSAE, as the governing committee on the standards on athletic equipment, was unable to escape the suit due to parent’s dissatisfaction with their lack of youth-specific safety standards.[9]

While concussions are among the injuries causing parent’s grave concerns, it is the potential to develop CTE that has caused parents to take action.[10] CTE is a progressive degenerative disease that typically affects individuals whom have suffered repeated concussions and traumatic brain injuries.[11] In the past, this disease was thought to primarily affect boxers, but most recently has been commonly linked to football players.[12] Among many symptoms, CTE has been known to cause difficulty controlling erratic behavior, behavioral disturbances, including depression and aggression, and gradual onset of dementia. [13]

Named plaintiffs Kimberly Archie and Jo Cornell both lost their sons in 2014 from the effects of CTE, which they believe was sustained as a result of both their son’s participation in Pop Warner’s football program.[14] Cornell’s son, Tyler, was a participant in the program for five years and it was after that time that he began suffering behavioral issues and was diagnosed with depression.[15] In April 2014, Tyler took his own life and it was later confirmed he suffered from CTE.[16] As it is these parent’s belief that their sons are two among hundreds of thousands of effected young athletes, their suit seeks to represent participants, including those deceased, who took part in Pop Warner’s youth tackle football program from 1997 to the present.[17]

The kicker of this case is lawmakers’ recent inquiries into USA Football’s Heads Up program safety statistics.[18] Following a NY Times investigative review, it was concluded that USA Football’s independent study, which purported injury reduction of seventy-six percent and concussion reduction of thirty percent, was unsupported.[19]

[1]  Suevon Lee, Pop Warner, Others Hit With Youth Football Concussion Suit, Law360 (Sept. 1, 2016), http://0-www.law360.com.libweb.hofstra.edu/articles/835830/pop-warner-others-hit-with-youth-football-concussion-suit.

[2] Alan Schwarz, N.F.L.-Backed Youth Program Says It Reduced Concussions. The Data Disagrees., N.Y. Times (July 27, 2016), http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/28/sports/football/nfl-concussions-youth-program-heads-up-football.html?_r=0.

[3] Lee, supra note 1.

[4] Heads Up Football Coaches Training, Pop Warner, http://www.popwarner.com/football.html (last visited Sept. 5, 2016).

[5] Is Your Coach Certified?, USA Football, www2.usafootball/com/coaches_registly.com (last visited Sept. 5, 2016).

[6] Heads Up Football Coaches Training, supra note 4.

[7]  See Lee, supra note 1.

[8]  See generally id.

[9]  Id.

[10]  Id.

[11] What is CTE?, Biri (Sept. 5, 2016, 11:15 AM) http://www.protectthebrain.org/Brain-Injury-Research/What-is-CTE-.aspx.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14]  See Lee, supra note 1.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17]  Id.

[18]  See generally id.

[19] Schwarz, supra note 2.

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One thought on “More Than A Headache for Youth Football Professionals

  1. Annie Romero says:

    Parents need to be aware of what happens when playing a contact sport. My son’s team has a group where we discuss literature on this very subject, we are currently looking at Tackling Dummies by Bobby Vernon, this should be a book on every coach and parents reading list when it comes to youth football! tacklingdummies.com is his site for it. It’s a fantastic resource in understanding all the aspects of the game for the young kids.

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