Pop Warner youth football is being sued for $5 million following the suicide of 25-year-old Wisconsin man. The lawsuit, filed by the man’s mother, alleges her son suffered severe brain damage caused by playing youth football and that Pop Warner failed to warn players about, and protect them from, the dangers of head trauma.
According to Fox News, Joseph Chernach hanged himself in his mother’s shed in Hixton, Wisc. in 2012.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in federal court in Madison, Wis. said Chernach suffered from degenerative brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE. The suit alleges he got the disease from playing Pop Warner football from 1997-2000 starting when he was 11. In the 27-page complaint, Chernach’s estate alleges Pop Warner “knew or should have known that tackle football was dangerous for children and exposed children to head injuries.”
Debra Pyrka, Chernach's mother, is seeking $5 million from Pop Warner Little Scholars, the Pop Warner Foundation and their insurance company. The lawsuit claims the organization never warned Chernach, other children or parents about the dangers of playing tackle football. It also alleges Pop Warner Football is an "ultrahazardous activity" that is intrinsically dangerous to children.
"Pop Warner — by engaging in the business of sponsoring, organizing and promoting tackle football for children — engaged in conduct that was outrageous, malicious, intentional and was done with the intentional disregard of Joseph Chernach's rights as well as all other children who played Pop Warner football, not just in the State of Wisconsin but everywhere in the United States," the complaint charges.
Chernach’s mother describes her son slipping deeper and deeper into depression starting around his sophomore year of college at Central Michigan University. While Chernach was not a football player in college, his behavior prior to his death sounds remarkably similar to that of Michael Keck, a former football player at at the University of Missouri and Missouri State who was also suffering from CTE.
“[Chernach’s] behavior became increasingly bizarre," Pyrka’s complaint says. "From that point on his mood became progressively depressed and ultimately paranoid, distrusting his closes friends and family. ... Joseph Chernach's suicide was the 'natural and probable consequence' of the brain damage he suffered playing football."
Pyka’s lawyer says the family did not know of his brain damage until they received his autopsy results.
A spokesman for Pop Warner declined to comment on the lawsuit.