Riddell Under Fire Over Helmets

An interesting and lengthy article published by PBS explored a controversial episode in NFL helmet maker Riddell’s past that sheds light on the current trouble it is facing regarding concussion damage. Reports have surfaced that a little more than a decade ago the equipment maker was in the process of developing and marketing what would become a blockbuster new helmet, known as the Revolution. The helmet would become a commercial success, earning millions in sales and ultimately become the most widely used helmets in professional football.

While the helmet won many commercial accolades, its safety record left something to be desired. Specifically, reports have now shown that the way Riddell marketed the helmet, as a revolutionary piece of equipment capable of protecting against concussions, was flatly untrue. PBS discussed how back in 2000, Riddell received a clear warning from a biomechanical engineering firm it had hired to work on the Revolution helmet which made clear that no football helmet, and especially not the Revolution, was able to prevent concussions.

The report from the engineering company, Biokenetics, was even more direct and made clear that while the helmet was able to pass industry safety reviews and would provide excellent protection against things like skull fractures, it did little if anything to reduce a players chance of suffering a concussion. The memo made clear that the Revolution still left players with a 95 percent chance of developing a concussion in the event of a serious blow to the head.

The puzzling aspect of the revelation is that the report from its own expert did nothing to tamp down marketing efforts by Riddell to claim the new helmet was a solid way to protect athletes from the dangers of concussions. In fact, Riddell released promotional materials at the time that said players who wore the helmet were 31 percent less likely to suffer a concussion. The figures were subsequently attacked as being drastically inflated and rejected by safety experts as well as members of Congress who launched an investigation into the matter.

Riddell is in the midst of a major lawsuit by thousands of former NFL players who claim that the company failed to warn them that its helmet would not protect against concussion. Just last month, a jury in Colorado found Riddell liable for $3.1 million out of a total of $11.5 million that was awarded to the family of a young man who was severely injured after a concussion he sustained during a high school football practice.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys say the latest revelation makes clear that Riddell knew as far back as 2000 that its helmets did not prevent concussions from occurring in athletes. Perhaps one of the senior engineers at Biokinetics said it best when, in a 2000 report to Riddell, he wrote, “No helmet can prevent a concussion. Full stop.”

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: “NFL Helmet Manufacturer Warned On Concussion Risk,” by Sabrina Shankman, published at PBS.org.

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