The Pop Warner youth football organization is limiting contact in practices to try to reduce the risk of concussions.
Pop Warner, which provides youth football along with cheer and dance programs in 42 U.S. states, has implemented safety changes that include limiting contact to no more than one-third of practice time. It’s also eliminated drills in which players hit each other head-on or at full speed beyond three yards.
“The two areas of highest concern are the quantity or volume of hits to the head and full-speed head-to-head contact,” Pop Warner Executive Director Jon Butler said in a telephone interview. “Our two new rules directly address both of those points.”
The organization said about 285,000 children participate in its football programs for ages 5 to 14 years.
“This upcoming season is the 83rd season for Pop Warner football and the No. 1 goal has always been to reduce any risk and keep the kids as safe as we can keep them,” Butler said.
Pop Warner said it’s the first youth organization to limit contact in practice. The changes at the grass-roots level come as the National Football League, the most popular U.S. sports league, seeks to improve player safety while facing more than 80 lawsuits filed by more than 2,000 former players seeking damages for head injuries sustained on the field.
A master complaint filed against the NFL this month accuses the league of negligence and failing to inform players of the association between repeated traumatic head impact and long-term brain injuries, including early onset Alzheimer’s, dementia and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
The NFL adopted a rule last year for team doctors and trainers to assess players who have sustained concussions during games. The league began issuing guidelines on concussions in 2007. Pop Warner has had a concussion rule in place since 2010 that says any player that suffers a head or neck injury has to be held out until cleared in writing by a medical professional trained in concussion recognition.
The father of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, a two-time NFL Most Valuable Player and three-time Super Bowl winner, is among the parents to express concern about children playing football as more links to long-term effects of head injuries are discovered.
Tom Brady Sr., who didn’t let his son play the sport until high school, told Yahoo Sports last month that if he had to make the same decision today, he’d be “very hesitant” about playing football at all.