Pop Warner football has banned kickoffs in its youngest divisions, part of the national youth football league's efforts to reduce hits to the head and increase player safety, the league said Thursday.
The ban takes affect in Pop Warner's the divisions covering players aged 5 to 10 — Tiny Mite, Mitey Mite and Junior Pee Wee — starting this fall. The league's announcement said that, after the season, the ban will be reviewed for implementation in older divisions.
“Eliminating kickoffs at this level adds another layer of safety without changing the nature of this great game. We are excited to look at the results at the end of the year as we explore additional measures," Pop Warner Executive Director Jon Butler said in the announcement.
The ball will be placed on the 35-yard line when play is started at the beginning of halves and after a team scores, according to Pop Warner, which said it is the first national football organization to eliminate kickoffs.
Many in recent years have called into question how safe football is for players at all levels of the game. NFL players have sued the league over concussions and lawsuits have been filed by some youth players or their families over injuries and medical conditions incurred.
A California teenager who fractured his spine in a 2011 Pop Warner championship game Laguna Hills died on Thursday of complications from surgery related to management of his injury, The Associated Press reported. Donnovan Hill and his mother sued the league in 2014, alleging the teen used a dangerous headfirst tackling technique promoted by his coaches. The lawsuit was settled in January.
President Barack Obama told The New Yorker two years ago that he wouldn't let his son play professional football when asked about a multitude of reports linking the game to concussions and retired players coming down with early-onset dementia.
Pop Warner is also this year reducing the amount of contact time to 25 percent of practices across all divisions, according to the announcement. The league has made several other decisions aimed at improving player safety, including in 2012 banning drills that have players hitting each other at full speed and head-on after lining up more than 3 yards apart.