Helmet Episode Highlights Arrogance of NFL and Riddell

In a strange and upsetting bit of news out of the NFL, a man named Bert Straus claims he invented a new kind of helmet that might have been able to dramatically reduce the incidents of concussion in professional football games. Sadly, according to Straus, the NFL laughed him out of the room and never gave his device a proper chance.

Straus got the idea for his headgear, ProCap, after watching a football game in the late 80s and worrying after seeing two players collide helmet-to-helmet in a brutal heap. Straus’ helmet was a small, half-inch tick piece of foam mold that was worn on top of conventional football helmets.

Straus tested the device and found that players who wore the ProCap-wrapped helmets suffered 30 percent less jolt than those without the ProCap. Another study, by the George Washington University sports medicine department, found that among a team that had half the players wearing a ProCap and half not, the players with the ProCaps suffered a grand total of zero concussions over the course of a season as opposed to six concussions suffered by those without the device.

Players took notice, with some swearing by the helmet. One player, Mark Kelso, decided to give it a try after suffering his fourth concussion. After he wore it for several games he was amazed at how well it worked and decided to continue wearing it for the rest of his career despite taunts from other players about its weird shape. Kelso says the ProCap stopped him from getting concussions and that it was worth the teasing.

Straus decided it was time to go before the NFL’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee and make his case. After all, he had hard evidence and player endorsements. However, the committee flatly rejected Straus’ pitch and even told players that if they used the ProCap they risked death. The decision by the NFL committee was based in part on flawed data provided by a consultant who disparaged the device, a consultant who at one time worked for the NFL’s official helmet maker, Riddell.

Years later the NFL and Riddell are now embroiled in thousands of lawsuits from players who were left with severe brain damage after years of taking hard knocks for a living. The suits focus on the helmets used in the game and the NFL’s lack of honesty with players about the danger they were in. Straus says his experience shows the problems that developed because of the close relationship between the NFL and Riddell.

Straus says Riddell was hostile towards his invention because it directly highlighted the flaws in Riddell’s helmet which was heavy and overly hard, creating great danger for players that suffered a blow from it. Sadly, the NFL appeared to be loyal to Riddell at the expense of not considering a new method for ensuring player safety. The NFL and the helmet company had a very deep financial relationship, with Riddell supplying more than 80 percent of the helmets in use in the NFL when Straus made his pitch.

Sadly, Straus’ experience is not unique. Another potentially important helmet, the Bike Pro Edition helmet, was put forward in 1999 and eventually shot down by the league despite being lighter and more flexible. The NFL continued supporting Riddell despite the potentially important development and use of the helmet dwindled.

Experts interviewed on the subject say the ProCap incident highlights the arrogance of many in the NFL and at Riddell about their own expertise. They thought they had all the answers and were decidedly not interested in hearing other solutions to the complex problem of concussions. Sadly, we now know that the NFL and Riddell did not have all the answers. The thousands of injured players who are left with life-long impairments are living proof that more could have been done to protect players from the harm of repeated head injuries.

Pope McGlamry P.C., currently represents former professional football players and their families for injuries and damages sustained as a result of suffering concussions while playing football, and is actively involved in the current concussion litigation. If you or someone you love has been injured by a sports-related concussion, you may be entitled to compensation.

Source: “Helmets Preventing Concussion Seen Quashed by NFL-Riddell,” by John Helyar, published at Bloomberg.com.

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