Pop Warner youth football under fire after court allows case to proceed

In 2011, thirteen year-old Donnovan Hill was paralyzed in a Southern California football game and, as the family says, it was because his coach allegedly taught the youngsters to tackle by leading with their heads. For a while, the claims were dismissed because parents must provide and sign a participation waiver that acknowledges how dangerous football can be. Now, ESPN’s Tom Farrey reports that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Frederick Shaller has allowed the case to be reexamined later today as such waivers do not cover “gross negligence.” Over the years, information has come to light about Sal Hernandez, the volunteer head coach, who even admitted in 2013 that he had completed the required training but didn’t finish the online module part of it.

“What’s striking is how little Pop Warner does behind the scenes to meet its promises,” said Rob Carey, lawyer for Hill and his mother, Crystal Dixon. “They’re hosting a combat sport with little kids, and not doing anything they say they’re doing to protect them. Nobody’s enforcing the safety rules, nobody’s checking on safety certification, and there’s no process in place to identify inefficiencies in safety training. There are no penalties for non-compliance, and no structure to resolve problems. That’s all on Pop Warner national. That’s what they’re supposed to do, provide systems that protect children.”

Although the circumstances are obviously dire, I’m very interested to see what comes out of this case. As it is with many major powers around the world, these organizations won’t change until they desperately have to — so, in the case of Pop Warner, not taking the time to properly train their coaches or, at the very least, checking up on them is a major misstep. It’s not hard to see that football can be an inherently dangerous sport, but it doesn’t have to be. Hopefully this case continuing on in our justice system can lead to healthy and safe changes to the youth sport we all love. Ultimately, there are ways to make this sport safer for children of all ages, but it will hardly matter if the coaches selected to guide them through that crucial learning process are unable or unwilling to teach them correctly. I’m very optimistic that a case like this can help bring some very necessary changes to this sport, I’m just sad it had to take a serious traumatic injury before we’ll get it. ESPN —Judge lets paralyzed player’s claim against Pop Warner proceed 

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