Talking with a mother who sued Pop Warner football
The concern about repeated head trauma in football is filtering from the NFL into the youth ranks and on Sept. 1, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Pop Warner football and USA Football. One of the lead plaintiffs is Kimberly Archie, whose son, Paul Bright Jr., played Pop Warner from 1997 to 2004 and was found to have CTE after his death following an automobile accident in 2014.
The New York Times took a look at what the suit could mean for the future of youth football. (Pop Warner did not return calls from espnW for comment on the suit.)
Even before her son's posthumous diagnosis, Archie was an activist when it came to safety in sports; her daughter, Tiffani, sustained injuries while participating in cheerleading. Archie, who lives in Los Angeles, talked to espnW about now being at the forefront of the discussion.
espnW: When did you become aware of the issue of brain trauma in youth sports?
Kimberly Archie: It really happened in August of 2005, when a girl named Ashley Burns, an incoming freshman, died at cheerleading practice. [My daughter and Burns] both went to Medford so when I saw the headline it said "14-year-old Medford cheerleader dies" and I thought, that could be our family. It started with cheerleading.
espnW: Did you ever see yourself as an activist?
KA: Even before my son died I said why us? Why me? I was trying to run from it, and the next thing I knew I was taking legal classes. I heard my calling long before, but do I want to be the face of CTE?
espnW: Before your son died, did you suspect that he was experiencing longer-term trauma?
KA: I did radio interviews, and because I was a voice out in public I didn't want to say in public I think he has CTE, but I did discuss the hits to the head and how disturbing it is. [As someone working on the issue and talking to NFL players] you learn the patterns, the position they played, the symptoms, the types of hits they took, because they take a lot. You see the early signs -- is that CTE or some form of neurological dysfunction? The early signs can be confusing. It was something I worried about.
espnW: Knowing what you did, did that change how you experienced the worst moment?
KA: We were a typical family, we never thought it would happen to us. It's heartbreaking and it takes all the wind out of your sails. It literally sucks the life out of you.
espnW: Have you gotten criticism over the years?
KA: It shouldn't be a political issue, an age issue or a gender issue. Everyone should want to protect kids and their future. I get called a liberal all the time, but I'm not a Democrat; I'm a Republican. I was a Republican in fifth grade. I'm not some helicopter mom. I have three kids and I was single for part of that and I didn't have time to be a helicopter parent. But I don't want to give them an injury they can't do anything about.
If you get tennis elbow, they have a surgery for that, but what can you do with CTE? Nothing is worse than brain damage. Whether we learn it's one in 100 or one in 1,000, moms don't want to play Russian roulette with their children.
espnW: What is next for you?
KA: Right now Save Your Brain is a big focus, right now working with all the families and working to get brain trauma out of youth sports. ... Moms are going to step up and do it. I don't care if it's headers in soccer or checking in hockey, kids shouldn't be learning about this from volunteer coaches.