A Pop Warner youth football game turned uglier than usual when one team of 10, 11, and 12-year-olds suffered no fewer than five concussions. Coaches, medical staff, and league officials stood by and even let some injured boys keep playing after suffering head injuries. While the league has now taken steps to punish those adults for not responding to the injuries, this game is another example of the big risks for young athletes.
Three of the concussions happened in the first quarter alone. By the end of the game, one team had 52 points. The other team had zero points and five concussions. A league rule allows officials to end a game after one team leads by 28 points-but none of the officials present invoked that rule to avoid more injuries.
Pop Warner is America’s biggest youth football league. In response to rising concerns about traumatic brain injuries, Pop Warner changed some rules in the last two years to try to limit youth athletes’ exposure to concussions. These rules include cutting some full-contact exercises in practice.
The fact that a single game involved this many brain injuries raises serious questions about whether Pop Warner can enforce its rules or do anything to make tackle football safe for young players.
The league did punish a number of coaches, officials, and even two association presidents. However, these punishments will not undo the brain injuries that these athletes already suffered. Research shows that brain injuries can do more damage to younger brains because children have weaker necks and less myelin to protect brain synapses.