By Ken Reed

Denny Doyle loves football and the Roman Catholic Church but he doesn’t think they should be connected. He strongly believes the church should stop sponsoring Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) football because of the risk of brain injuries (youth players are particularly vulnerable to concussions), as well as the legal risks to the church.

“I think that they’re making a terrible mistake and they’re injuring children’s brains,” says Doyle. “It’s the second child abuse crisis in the Catholic Church.”

Doyle, former general counsel for Chiquita Brands International, and his family have donated millions to Catholic causes through their family foundation. It’s that love for his church, along with his concern for the safety of youth athletes, that has spurred his campaign to get the Catholic Church out of the youth football business.

The church is resisting all his efforts.

“With abortion, the church says whenever a life is on the line, we do the ultimate to protect life,” says Doyle.

“They hang themselves out there to protect life, but when someone says they should be protecting a life from brain damage, they don’t want to look.”

Doyle fears the church could be sued if a player sustained a catastrophic brain injury on the field or developed neurological or cognitive problems years later. For four years he’s been lobbying church officials to get out of youth football sponsorship. He hired a Catholic sports law professor to write opinions outlining the legal risks the church faces by allowing youth football to be played on its property. He offered to fly church officials to visit scientists who study the links between brain disease and repetitive blows to the head. He donated money to the Concussion Legacy Foundation to pay for videos promoting flag football for children under the age of 14. He’s sent scientific research papers on brain trauma to 40 dioceses across the country.

But Doyle has mostly received silence from the church. He believes the church is afraid to upset football-loving parishioners — especially young parents.

Nevertheless, he’s going to keep up his efforts because he wants to protect the church from legal and financial risks and because he believes the church is a steward of children and has the responsibility to protect children from unnecessarily risking their short-and long-term brain health.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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