A U.S. District Court Judge in California has allowed a class-action lawsuit against Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc. to proceed after agreeing that the league increased the danger to youth football participants by failing to institute league-wide safety protocols and guidelines, according to Law360.com.
“Pop Warner Little Scholars argues that the fraud claims fail because head trauma is an inherent risk of tackle football,” the judge wrote, but what the parents are alleging is “that PWLS misrepresented that safety was its top priority, with coaches trained in head injuries, equipment that afforded the best protection, and rules and procedures designed to protect children from injury—all with the knowledge that none of this was true, to boost the number of Pop Warner participants.”
Reports of declining participation in Pop Warner football—and, more generally, all 11-player full-contact youth football—have been circulating for years, with some evidence that the decline is related to increased concern about head injuries. Pop Warner and USA Football adopted the Heads Up program after its establishment in 2012, but this lawsuit alleges that Pop Warner overstated its focus and commitment to the safety of its participants specifically in order to facilitate increased participation. In other words, instead of making youth football safer in response to declining participation, Pop Warner is accused of endeavoring only to make it seem safer, with potentially catastrophic consequences.
The case was brought last year by the parents of two kids who were found to have suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) during postmortem autopsies. A New York Times report noted that the parents—Kimberly Archie and Jo Cornell—are represented by lawyers with experience representing NFL players in actions against the league for knowingly obscuring the risks of head trauma.
Judge Philip S. Gutierrez reportedly “tossed causes of action related to California’s Unfair Competition law and Unfair Business Practices act,” but allowed counts of negligence, fraud, fraudulent concealment, and negligent misrepresentation to proceed, according to the Law360 report.