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10-Year-Old Football Bounties and Brain Injuries

Just as brain injuries in professional sports are attracting more and more attention, a youth sports league is investigating whether its coaches ran a “bounty” program in one of its southern California teams. Football bounty programs are schemes in which coaches offer rewards or incentives for players to inflict game-ending injuries on the other team’s best athletes.

Because traumatic brain injuries can have long-lasting and debilitating consequences for young athletes, victims should be able to pursue coaches and leagues to recover damages.

In this case, several people told a local Orange County newspaper that two of the team’s coaches offered cash rewards between $20 and $50. To earn the bounties, the 10- and 11-year-old boys had to knock specific players on the other team out of the game.

One witness reported seeing the head coach hand a wad of money to one of the players after a game. During the game, that same player had delivered a dangerous hit to another player, giving him a serious concussion and forcing him off the field.

Although the coaches deny these charges, the league is now concerned enough to launch an investigation. It says several other players came forward with more information.

If the charges are true, the coaches could face civil liability for paying kids to injure other players. This is especially the case in the context of the 11-year-old’s concussion. Brain injuries at an early age can have lasting and cumulative effects on young athletes.

Depending on the facts, the league could also find itself liable for failing to prevent the coaches’ alleged misconduct.

Tackles may be a necessary part of football but traumatic brain injuries and entertainment simply do not mix. Normal risks are one thing-intentionally raising the chances of a devastating injury is unacceptable.

Source: USA Today Sports, “Did a Pop Warner team put out bounties on opponents,” Gary Mihoces, Sept. 28, 2012