Pop Warner youth football blamed for Wisconsin man’s suicide


Feb. 5, 2015: Joseph Chernach stands on the sideline during a high school football game in Crystal Falls, Mich. (AP)

The Pop Warner youth football organization is being sued by the mother of a Wisconsin man who died in 2012, saying dementia and deep despair caused by brain injuries he suffered while playing youth football influenced his suicide.

Joseph Chernach was 25 when he hanged himself in his mother’s shed in Hixton, Wisc. in 2012. The lawsuit said he suffered from degenerative brain disease called dementia pugilistica, also known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE. The suit alleges he got them from playing Pop Warner football from 1997-2000 starting when he was 11.

Debra Pyrka, Chernach’s mother, filed the wrongful death lawsuit in federal court in Madison, Wisc. She is seeking $5 million from Pop Warner Little Scholars, the Pop Warner Foundation and their insurance company. The lawsuit claims the organization never warned Chernach, other children or parents about the dangers of playing tackle football. It also alleges Pop Warner Football is an “ultrahazardous activity” that is intrinsically dangerous to children.

“Pop Warner — by engaging in the business of sponsoring, organizing and promoting tackle football for children — engaged in conduct that was outrageous, malicious, intentional and was done with the intentional disregard of Joseph Chernach’s rights as well as all other children who played Pop Warner football, not just in the State of Wisconsin but everywhere in the United States,” the complaint charges.

The lawsuit says Chernach did well in his freshman year at Central Michigan University, but the effects of the brain diseases began to affect him in his sophomore year.


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