Student Well-Being

Mother Sues Pop Warner Over Suicide of Former Football-Playing Son

By Bryan Toporek — February 06, 2015 1 min read
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A Wisconsin mother filed a lawsuit against Pop Warner Thursday, accusing the organization of negligence that directly led to her son’s suicide.

The plaintiff’s son, Joseph Chernach, began playing youth football in a Pop Warner league in the summer of 1997 at age 11, and continued to play through the year 2000, according to the suit. Fifteen years later, Chernach committed suicide by hanging himself in his mother’s shed.

“A substantial factor contributing to this hanging death was the fact that Joseph Chernach suffered from the disease of dementia pugilistica, also known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE,” the suit alleges. “The disease ... caused severe emotional, behavior, cognitive, and physical problems in Joseph Chernach, all of which contributed to his mental state of mind at the time of his hanging.”

The suit claims Chernach’s suicide “was the natural and probable consequence of the injuries he suffered playing Pop Warner football.” Chernach’s mother, Debra Pyka, accused Pop Warner of negligence by failing to train coaches properly, having no limitations on hitting in practice, using older, unsafe helmets, and failing to warn participants and parents about the risk of brain damage.

Pyka is seeking at least $5 million in punitive damages from Pop Warner, the Pop Warner Foundation, and its insurance company, suggesting the organization “engaged in conduct that was outrageous, malicious, intentional and was done with 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 suit faces a host of potential obstacles, however,


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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.