Brain Injury Trends Lead to Pop Warner Rule Changes

From worried moms to neuroscientists, people have long blamed American football for head and brain injury traumas that can lead to debilitating mental conditions. Already this year we have seen two former NFL superstars take their own lives, and the cause of death for both men has been linked to complications stemming from head injuries. Now, one youth football organization has announced its intentions to alter league rules in order to better protect young children from serious head injuries, such as concussions and traumatic brain injury (TBI).

The ‘It’s All Part of the Game’ Attitude

It’s practically an American cliché at this point: parents who tell their children to “shake it off” after taking a hit from a defender, almost as if the adult’s pride is somehow at stake during a pee-wee football game.

But shaking it off can be dangerous, even fatal, in today’s world of competitive youth sports. Just ask Washington State’s own Zackery Lystedt, who suffered severe brain damage from repeated concussions he sustained during youth football games. Soon after Lystedt’s story broke, Gov. Christine Gregoire signed what was dubbed ‘the nation’s toughest youth athlete return-to-play law.’

In Zackery Lystedt Law, youth athletes in Washington who were suspected of suffering from a concussion would be immediately removed from the game and are not allowed to return until a written medical clearance from a licensed health-care provider was issued on their behalf.

Similar restrictions have been approved and adopted in other states throughout the country, and the National Football League (NFL) also adopted head and brain injury policies. But, as with all health-related policies and laws, there is always more to be done.

Youth Football’s New Brain Injury Rules

In light of situations like Zackery Lystedt’s, youth football organizations are going back to the drawing board when it comes to preventive policies and rules. Neurosurgeon Julian Bailes, who is also the chairman of the Pop Warner youth football medical advisory board, explains that children on the field are almost always at risk of a traumatic brain injury or severe brain damage.

“You could have padding six inches thick, and the brain’s still freely able to move and twist and tear from time to time,” Bailes said. “But in these cases, we worry about brain impact, brain damage, brain injury.”

To combat the risks of TBI and other forms of severe head trauma among the youngsters, Pop Warner executive director Jon Butler and his team established new rules that will be enforced in the upcoming year. Beginning in 2012, players must be less than three meters apart when participating in tackling practice. Butler believes these rules will limit the speed and force of the impact that occurs when one player is tackling another.

“Teams spend multiple more hours in practice than they do in games,” Butler said. “More injuries occur in practice, just because of the increased time.”

Do you think that applying new rules during practice time will have a positive impact on head and brain injuries among youth athletes? Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comment box below. If your child has suffered from TBI or another form of severe head injury, contact the Davis Law Group today at 206-727-4000 to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. 

Chris Davis
Top-rated, award-winning, attorney practicing wrongful death & serious injury law in Seattle.
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