6/21/2012 @ 9:51AM |1,298 views

Since 1989, Riddell, Inc. (Riddell) has been the official helmet of the National Football League (NFL).  John T. Riddell established the company in 1927, but it was not until 1939 that its first soft plastic-shell football helmet was released to the public.  Advancements in technology and thinking have allowed members of Riddell to make improvements to its football helmets, which include web sling suspension, a chin strap, and the face mask.  By 1979, net sales for the company reached $15.1 million.

In 1991, the year that Riddell Sports became a public company, net revenues were up to $35.5 million.  Today, Riddell is a part of Easton-Bell Sports, Inc., and the companies find themselves caught in the line of fire with little protection to guard themselves from the hard hits that they may take in the pending NFL concussion litigation.

[Related: Easton-Bell Sports First Quarter 2012 – 10Q Filing]

The main allegation made by the roughly 2,500 plaintiffs seeking damages against Riddell is that the helmet manufacturer had a duty to protect NFL players against the long-term risk of concussions, yet defaulted on that obligation.  Further, the plaintiffs believe that Riddell falsely marketed their helmets as having the ability to reduce the risk of concussions by a substantial percentage and has failed to warn plaintiffs of the long-term health effects of concussions.

In conducting research for this article, I came across an article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review titled, “Now, concern turns to football helmet”.  It was written by Karen Roebuck and Joe Starkey and published on June 16, 2006, but for some reason the article was no longer accessible.  I happened to get my hands on the article and found at least one reason why Riddell would probably prefer to keep that article away from plaintiffs that have filed suit.

[Article: Now, concern turns to football helmet]

Roebuck and Starkey had focused their article on Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s anticipated use of Riddell’s Revolution helmet.  This is the helmet that plaintiffs refer to in their Master Complaint, pointing out that Riddell marketed the helmet as reducing concussions by 31%.  In their article, Roebuck and Starkey included comments from Marty Cothern, a Riddell key account manager.  According to the article, the following statement was purportedly made by Cothern:

The helmet was designed to protect players from concussions but also provides the best jaw protection available on a football helmet. (emphasis added).

That statement, alone, could potentially open the door to liability.  There should certainly be concern if Riddell was making public statements, through its employees, that its product could effectively protect players from concussions and players operated under the guise of such protection.  In the same article, quarterback Mark Brunell was quoted saying, ”I don’t care if some guys may think it looks silly…if it fits fine and gives me a lesser chance of getting a concussion, I’ll wear it — I’ll keep wearing it. Concussions are not a lot of fun. Once you have one, you never want to have one again.” (emphasis added).

But was the helmet actually reducing the risk of concussion, and were Brunell and other quarterbacks buying into Riddell’s marketing of the effectiveness of its helmet?

Mark Picot, Executive Vice President of Mahercor Laboratories, LLC, says that the helmet was widely panned and supported by fraudulent research.  Mahercor Laboratories, LLC produces the Maher Mouth Guard, and claims that since its development, no NFL Player wearing any products in their product line has ever succumbed to a concussion from a blow to the jaw.  It is fair to say that Picot is no fan Elliot Pellman, the former head of the NFL’s concussion committee.  ”Pellman and his crew decided to manipulated research in order to minimize the dangers of concussion and with the hope of selling helmets for Riddell,” said Picot in an email.  ”Who profited? Who paid the price?”

Darren Heitner is an attorney at Wolfe Law Miami, P.A. in Miami, Florida, Founder of Sports Agent Blog, Professor of Sport Agency Management at Indiana University, and Co-Founder of Collegiate Sports Advisors.  Follow him at @DarrenHeitner.

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