Kimberly Archie of Los Angeles and Jo Cornell of San Diego both had sons with similar interests: football. Their sons shared interest in football, a sport they played when they were young at Pop Warner and later on, high school. Both their children are now gone – just in their 20s – and they share yet another thing in common: both were found to be afflicted with a degenerative brain condition, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is believed to be linked to repeated hits to the head. Both mothers are suing Pop Warner for neglect.
Pop Warner is a long-running organization dedicated to youth football. But it doesn’t just focus on sport; it requires participants to adhere to certain academic standards.
Those were the reasons Archie and her ex-husband signed up their son, Paul Bright Jr., for Pop Warner football. They simply wanted “well-rounded” children. That and youth football in America is considered a “rite of passage.” Bright played at Pop Warner from the age of seven until he was 14. He then went on to play a year of high school football.
In his early 20s, Archie suspected that something was wrong with her son. She noticed that he wasn’t in control of his emotions. Plus, he also displayed obsessive compulsive tendencies. At the age of 24, Bright was gone – a victim of a 2014 motorcycle crash the police said was his fault.
Archie thought it was “quasi-suicidal” and decided to have her son’s brain looked at. She suspected that her son may have CTE, a condition that can only be diagnosed after death, although progress has been made to detect this with an MRI. Her suspicions were confirmed.
Archie believes that Paul’s CTE resulted from years of playing Pop Warner football. So together with Cornell, they are suing the youth league for failing to protect their children’s brain health.
Like Bright, Ty Cornell played football from the age of eight to 17. He committed suicide in 2014. He was 24 years old.
In their suit against Pop Warner, the mothers claim that the league misled parents regarding the safety of helmets their children used and the effectiveness of the training of their coaches.
Although officials from Pop Warner have not discussed the lawsuit directly, they have spoken about how the league is keeping children safe. They have set up a medical advisory committee, done away with kickoffs for the youngest age groups, and required safety training for coaches. They have also eliminated full-speed tackling drills during practice.
Dr Julian Bailes, neurosurgeon and chairman of Pop Warner’s medical advisory committee who also served as an NFL doctor, said that “CTE has never been found in someone who just played youth football.”
It’s true that while a number of young men who died in their late teens and early 20s have been diagnosed with CTE, a lot of them played a combination of high school football and other contact sports.
Critics have said the changes the league implemented still aren’t enough. Their argument is now backed by a study from Boston University. That research provided definitive evidence that head impacts caused brain disease and CTE.
As the lawsuit against Pop Warner carries on, so does research into the link between youth sports and brain injury. Either result will have an impact on the decision of parents to allow their children to play youth sports.