A Wisconsin woman filed a lawsuit against the Pop Warner youth football organization on Thursday, arguing that brain injuries her son incurred while participating caused him to kill himself when he was 25 years old, NBC News reported.
“If I had known that there would be a possibility of brain damage and brain diseases, my sons would’ve never played Pop Warner football,” Debra Pyka said.
According to the lawsuit, which was filed in federal district court in Madison, Joseph Chernach played Pop Warner tackle football between the ages of 11 and 14, but did not begin feeling the effects of several concussions he received until he was a sophomore in college. He hanged himself inside Pyka’s shed in June 2012.
“Joseph Chernach got dementia pugilistica as a result of playing football, which included playing football beginning at the age of 11 in the Pop Warner football league,” the suit stated, adding that Chernach also suffered from post-concussion syndrome which began to affect his behavior and cognitive abilities after a successful freshman year at Central Michigan University.
“From that point on, his cognitive functioning declined each year until his death. From that point on, his behavior became increasingly bizarre,” the suit said. “From that point on, his mood became progressively depressed and ultimately paranoid, distrusting his closest friends and family.”
Pyka told the Associated Press that her son eventually stopped attending school and mostly kept to himself.
“He lived back and forth with his brother and some of his friends,” she said. “He would come to my house. He just could not stay in any place at once. He tried to hold down a job but it was difficult for him. He would sleep all day and then be up at night.”
NBC also reported that the suit was filed just over a week after researchers at Boston University said in a study that former National Football League players who took part in Pop Warner before they were 12 years old reported greater decreases in cognitive functions and memory.
According to Pyka’s attorney, Chernach’s family found out about the injuries after his autopsy revealed that he was in danger of suffering from the same type of pugilistica dementia — also known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy — as ex-NFL players.
The suit said officials at Pop Warner — which it called a “war game” — should have warned Chernach, as well as other players, about their increased risk of brain injury compared to older players.
“They have no appreciation that they are doing anything other than play,” the suit said of participants. “While they might grasp the concept of a scraped knee, they have no appreciation of the catastrophic lifetime risks that engaging in this combative sports involves.”
Pop Warner states on its website that players are removed if they are suspected of having suffered a concussion or head injury and are not allowed to return after being evaluated and cleared in writing by “a currently licensed medical professional trained in the evaluation and management of concussions.”
Watch footage from Pyka’s interview with NBC News, as posted on Friday, below.