In the next few weeks, thousands of hopeful players of all ages will begin training for the upcoming football season. But the warning now placed on each football helmet made by two of the top three helmet manufacturers offer stark advice:
“No helmet system can protect you from serious brain and/or neck injuries including paralysis or death,” the label says. “To avoid these risks, do not engage in the sport of football.”
Manufacturers Rawlings and Schutt utilize identical warnings on all football helmets. But the nation’s largest helmet manufacturer, Riddell, doesn’t go so far as to suggest that avoiding football will also avoid the risks.
In April of this year, a Colorado jury found Riddell liable for failing to adequately warn about possible head trauma. The jury did not find any design flaw in the Riddell helmets but did find that the company had failed to adequately warn players of the risks of concussion. A total of $11.5 million was awarded to the family of a young man who was seriously injured after a concussion in a high school football practice, with Riddell being held responsible for $3.5 million of the award.
More than a decade ago, Riddell was developing a highly promoted new football helmet designed to reduce the risk of concussions. The helmet was ambitiously called the Revolution. It would become the most widely used helmet in the NFL and by college, high school and youth leagues.
But in 2000, a biomechanics firm hired first by the NFL and later by Riddell to test helmets and study head injuries sent the company a report showing that no football helmet could prevent concussions. The report concluded that even a helmet that passed the industry safety standard for protection against skull fractures and other severe head injuries could leave a player with a 95 percent likelihood of receiving a concussion from a strong enough blow.
The report was first made public during the Colorado lawsuit, yet Riddell continued to market the helmet as providing protection against concussions. Riddell promoted the Revolution by saying that players who wore it were 31 percent less likely to suffer a concussion – an assertion considered to be an exaggeration at best by leading experts on head injuries and some members of Congress.
Riddell issued a statement after the verdict standing behind its belief that Riddell designs and manufactures the most protective football headgear for athletes. But Riddell said it plans to appeal the verdict.
Riddell is also being sued by thousands of former NFL players as a co-defendant in the major lawsuit against the league. The plaintiffs claim that Riddell failed to warn them that its helmet would not protect against concussions.