Consumer Fraud

FTC investigates football helmet company for false safety and marketing claims

Football helmet manufacturers have been making fraudulent claims about the ability of their products to keep players safe on the field, New Mexico Senator Tom Udall asserted in a letter sent to the Federal Trade Commission earlier this month. Udall’s letter took aim at Riddell and Schutt Sports for their “misleading marketing claims,” and requested the FTC investigate the company’s claims.

Riddell supplies the official helmet for the National Football League, but is also a leading helmet manufacturer of football helmets for high school players and younger. The company’s helmets are in use by athletes of all ages and ability throughout the country.

According to Udall, Riddell made false claims about football helmet safety in online video advertisements for helmets. He quoted Riddell’s website, saying that “research shows a 31 percent reduction in the risk of concussion in players wearing a Riddell Revolution football helmet when compared to traditional helmets.”

“Yet there is actually very little scientific evidence to support the claim,” Udall said, explaining that the numbers are unfounded because football helmet industry standards don’t address concussion prevention or reduction.

Amid growing concern about concussions and other forms of traumatic brain injury on the playing field, Udall asked the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to determine whether football helmet safety standards were sufficient in protecting younger players. Sports are the second leading cause of traumatic brain injury for people 15- to 24-years-old (motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause). More than one million American high school students play football, and every year American athletes suffer up to an estimated 3.8 million sports-related concussions, of which 300,000 result in loss of consciousness.

Research has shown that repeated concussions can have cumulative, debilitating effects on brain function over just a short period of time, leading to cognitive disabilities and psychological disorders such as depression, moodiness, and suicidal thoughts.

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz responded to Udall’s request, saying that his agency would investigate Riddell’s claims. “We agree that these are serious concerns,” Leibowitz wrote, “and will determine what action by this agency may be appropriate.”