An Examination Of The Importance Of Football Helmet Warnings

Posted on August 6, 2013

Many people have the somewhat misguided assumption that warning labels on products are overkill.  They might scoff that of course they would never be the person who would make such a foolish mistake or that certain risks should be obvious.  But the truth is that proper labels are imperative to safety, and nowhere is that more apparent than in a new report that takes a look at how warning labels may serve to improve concussion protection in football.

This past April, Riddell, a helmet maker, found out the hard way how important labels truly are.  Back in 2008, an 18 year old Colorado high school student suffered a head injury while playing football.  That man has now won a $3.1 million lawsuit against Riddell after a jury determined that the helmet company failed to sufficiently warn wearers about the threat of a head injury.  In addition to Riddell, the jury also determined that coaches were partially liable due to their inability to see to the injury after it occurred.

This ruling was made despite the assertion by the jury that the helmets themselves were not defective.  That means that it was the warning itself that was deemed necessary lest players not understand the dangers.

That warning is something that Schutt Sports, another helmet maker, takes seriously.  For around ten years, the helmets have carried language explaining that a helmet is not able to protect players from neck injuries, brain injuries, paralysis, or even a fatality.  But it’s the last sentence that gives some football enthusiasts pause.  That sentence reads in full:  “To avoid these risks, do not engage in the sport of football.”

The Chief Executive of the company points out that the language isn’t there for fear mongering.  He says that outlining the risk is the responsibility of the company.  But not everyone feels the same.  One California youth league official said the wording could actually harm the game.

While other companies do have warnings, they’re often not as explicit as that adopted by Schutt.  Riddell, for instance, has yet to affix a warning saying that the only true way to avoid danger is not to play football.  The company has stated that their current informational materials already highlight the necessary risks and safety information.

It’s important to note, though, that language isn’t going to completely eliminate the risks of playing football.  One of the founders of an organization called Applied Safety and Ergonomics explains that such directives can only supplement other safety measures.  It’s up to coaches, referees, and persons overseeing the game to do what they can to encourage safety.  That may mean rethinking certain aspects of football from the ground up.

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