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Pop Warner Settles Major Lawsuit Over Youth Football Concussions

The suit was one of the first filed after research showed that NFL players who played football as youths suffered declines in memory and cognition.
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The Pop Warner youth football organization has settled a lawsuit with the mother of a Wisconsin man who she says committed suicide because of brain injuries he suffered playing tackle football beginning at age 11, the organization said Wednesday.

Terms of the settlement weren't disclosed. The woman, Debra Pyka of Hixton, Wisconsin, had sought $5 million plus punitive damages in the suit (PDF), which was filed last year in U.S. District Court in Madison.

Brian Heffron, a spokesman for Pop Warner, confirmed that the case had been settled but said he couldn't comment further. In a statement, the organization said it "has been a leader in addressing player safety, including around the concussion issues."

"Pop Warner dedicates a heavy dose of communication and education for parents, coaches and players," the organization said.

Attorneys for Pyka couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Pyka claimed that her son, Joseph Chernach, was suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — a form of dementia — when he hanged himself in his mother's shed in June 2012 at age 25.

She claimed Chernach suffered concussions leading to the dementia while playing in a Wisconsin-Michigan Pop Warner league from 1997 to 2000.

The suit was among the first and most important to be filed after Boston University researchers reported last year that former NFL players who played tackle football before age 12 showed greater declines in memory and cognitive function when compared to peers who entered the game in their teens.

Concussions and their long-term effects on football players are among the most controversial issues surrounding America's most popular sport. The acclaimed movie "Concussion" returned the topic to the forefront of national discussion last year.

In January, researchers at the U.S. Sports Academy, which studies medical issues in sports, reported that the evidence that CTE is associated with suicide among football players is so strong that the focus should shift to studying specific psychological and cognitive symptoms associated with the condition.