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Mom Suing Pop Warner Wants to Stop Pre-Teen Tackle Football

Debra Pyka, who is suing Pop Warner football on claims youth head injuries led to her adult son's suicide, says she hopes to educate parents.
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The Wisconsin mother suing Pop Warner over her son's suicide said she hopes to stop young children from playing organized tackle football and to educate parents. "Other parents out there should know what happened to my son and be aware of all the dangers and symptoms," Debra Pyka told NBC News. "I don’t want to see this happen to anyone else’s child."

In a lawsuit filed Thursday, Pyka alleged that her son, Joseph Chernach, suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a form of dementia known as CTE, before he hanged himself in his mother's shed in June 2012 at age 25.

The suit claims Chernach suffered concussions leading to the dementia while playing in a Wisconsin-Michigan Pop Warner football league from 1997 to 2000. Pop Warner should have known about research linking concussions to dementia, the suits says. It accuses the organization of negligence for allowing small children to play the game. Pyka is seeking $5 million in damages.

The suit followed an announcement by Boston University researchers that former NFL players who played tackle football before 12 showed greater declines in memory and cognitive function when compared to peers who entered the game in their teens.

Pyka's lawyer, Gordon Johnson, said they are not seeking to prove that Pop Warner was the only source of the blows that caused Chernach's dementia. Rather, they are seeking a broader interpretation of "strict liability" laws to hold Pop Warner responsible. "We have to prove that Pop Warner was a substantial factor in him getting it, and we knew from research that playing under 12 is when you're most vulnerable," Johnson said.

Even if they don't win the case, "the airing of these issues will benefit everybody," he added.


— Ron Mott and Jon Schuppe