Two mothers whose sons committed suicide and were later found to have serious brain injuries are suing Pop Warner Football.
Jo Cornell of Rancho Bernardo, and Kimberly Archie of North Hollywood share similar and tragic stories.
Cornell’s son Tyler took his life in 2014 at age 25. His mother says he played football from age 8 to 17. After his death, she donated his brain for further study and he was diagnosed with CTE, a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma.
Archie’s son Paul was 24-years old when he took his life. He played football from age 7 to 15. He too was later diagnosed with CTE.
“It was just so hard to fathom that this would happen. What he loved the most in the world, football, would actually cause his demise and take him out,” said Cornell.
Both Cornell and Archi are convinced youth football, and countless hits to their sons' heads, played a role in their deaths. Now the mothers are suing Pop Warner football alleging, in part, negligence, and fraud, and claim the organization misrepresented that safety was a top priority.
“The main message is for parents to know that tackle football is not made for young children,” Archie said.
The pair is advocating for change in youth football, including limits on the amount of contact a child can have. They’re calling for lighter, and therefore safer helmets. They also want new age parameters.
“Increase the age of entry so kids would wait until at least high school. Society needs to decide an age just like we do for driving or joining the military,” said Archie.
The pair is also a part of a website, www.FacesofCTE.com, which calls on people whose loved ones have died and have a history of playing football to donate their brains. It also advocates for flag football until the age of 14.
Among the ‘faces’ posted on the website, is Junior Seau, the former San Diego Charger who committed suicide in 2012 and was diagnosed with CTE.
In a sad irony, there is a football autographed by Seau in Tyler Cornell’s bedroom.
“It’s not worth the risk. I have no son. I have no children now. I’ll never have grandchildren now. It’s a terrible price to pay,” said Cornell.
A spokesperson for Pop Warner Football did not return phone calls for comment on the mothers’ statements. The spokesperson has previously told NBC 7, “attorneys have no comment.”
In 2012, Pop Warner football implemented safety changes that include limits on contact.
Recently, a judge rejected the organizations' request to throw out the lawsuit. No trial date has been set in the case.