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Controversy Continues About Helmets, Warning Labels, and Brain Injury

Even though the debate both in and out of the courtroom has raged for years, the matter of brain injury and physical sports is far from over. For example, just this week the New York Times published a new piece on the helmet manufacturers who are under intense scrutiny. In particular, many questions are being raised about the need for clear, unambiguous warning labels to ensure all sporting participants, particularly football players, are aware of the risk of serious brain, neck, and spine injury.

How Blunt Should Warnings Be?
The current debate focuses not on the existence of warning labels–all helmets have them in some form–but on the nature of the language itself. Most consumers rarely read these warnings, and, even when they do, the text is often so convoluted and watered down that few appreciate the details.

Considering the serious risks at play with items like football helmets, at least one manufacturer is trying to break through the noise by using a simple, direct warning label on all helmets. The company, Schutt Sports, has used this text on all football helmets it has created for the last ten years:

No helmet system can protect you from serious brain and.or neck injuries, including paralysis or death. To avoid these risks, do not engage in the sport of football.

The warning is much clearer than one could find on any other product. Of particular interest is the recommendation that the only way to avoid the risks is to not play the game altogether. For consumer rights activists and many sports safety experts, that qualification is quite welcome. Instead of skirting around the fact that the game is simply dangerous, the helmet manufacturer is seemingly honest to a fault.

In summing up the company’s position, the manufacturer’s CEO explained, “The simplest thing we can do is remind people that the game has inherent risks. It’s an ethical, moral, and legal issues. People need to know these things.”

Unsurprisingly, most other helmet manufacturers have not followed suit. The business leader in the market, Riddell makes no mention of the fact that avoiding risks requires giving up the game. One likely reason is the fact that such a blunt warning could be bad for business. In fact, Schutt claims that they have lost contracts specifically because different league officials thought the warning label would scare off players and was “bad for the game of football.”

For its part, Riddell has been embroiled in several legal battles related to this very issue. Earlier this year the company actually lost a jury trial where it was claimed they failed to warn players about potential brain injury. The jury decision, currently being appealed, ordered Riddell to pay $3.1 million in damages to a young man who suffered a serious head injury during a high school football game.

At the end of the day, there should be nothing to fear from accurate, straightforward information provided to customers. This is true for all products, from football helmets to toasters. If a company is a afraid of what might happen by their complete honesty, then the problems are likely far more serious anyway.

See Other Blog Posts:

NFL Brain Injury Case Heads to Mediation

Debating the True Value of Helmets