Football is an American past time, but it's also incredibly dangerous, especially when it's young children out there bashing each other to bits on the field. One Wisconsin mom learned this in the most tragic way possible, and now she's taking a stand. According to NBC News, Debra Pyka filed a lawsuit on Thursday accusing Pop Warner, a youth football organization, of negligence and is seeking damages in the death of her son, who she believes committed suicide as a result of dementia caused by playing tackle football.
Pyka claims her son, Joseph, suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy caused by recurring head trauma - concussions, in this case - and questions why Pop Warner does not do more protect the children who play for them:
Pyka's suit says Pop Warner should have known about research linking concussions to dementia and accuses it of negligently having allowed small children to play the game, hired amateur coaches and referees untrained to deal with concussions, failed to require the safest possible helmets, and failed to warn her and other parents of the risk of dementia, among other claims.
Her suit also cites several professional athletes and coaches who've acknowledged the dangers of the game and NBC notes that it comes on the heels of a Boston University study that found teens who played football before age 12 show greater declines in memory and cognitive function than their peers. In their write-up, NBC also included the results of a poll from last week indicating "2 out of 5 U.S. parents would encourage their children to play a sport other than football specifically because of concerns about concussions."
I'm a huge football fan, but the evidence doesn't lie: we're not doing enough to protect players, especially when they're young. My children are both younger than 4 and despite our love for the sport, my husband and I have already agreed there is no way either of them will ever be allowed to play football or any other sport with a documented history of frequent concussions. It's almost guaranteed they will suffer some sort of long term consequence, be it mental or physical, and to us it just isn't worth the risks.
Pyka most likely has a long road ahead of her in trying to prove dementia from tackle football is what caused her son to commit suicide, but I think her assertions about amateur coaches, untrained referees, and lack of safety equipment are spot on. It's scary enough watching grown men bash into each other every Sunday. It's downright absurd that we allow children to do it.
I think a lot of these organizations and their supporters downplay the level of danger. Football is seen as all-American and untouchable, and the bad things that happen in the game are the exception, not the rule. I can understand why parents willingly put their faith in these youth sports organizations, and it's tragic that questions regarding their efficacy are being raised in light of young men losing their lives. My heart goes out the the Pyka family. Regardless of the lawsuit's outcome, I hope they're able to raise awareness about a growing problem and help enact changes that could protect a lot of young kids in the future.