Published November 20, 2014
A senator is asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate "misleading safety claims and deceptive practices" in the selling of new football helmets and reconditioning of used ones.
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said in a letter sent Tuesday to FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz that helmet companies "appear to be using misleading advertising claims" and that "some helmet reconditioning companies may be falsely selling used helmets as meeting an industry safety standard." Udall writes that he is particularly concerned about sales of helmets for children's use.
Udall also says he is "troubled by misleading marketing claims by Riddell, a leading helmet maker that supplies the official helmet to the National Football League."
He quotes Riddell's website as 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."
Udall adds: "Yet there is actually very little scientific evidence to support the claim."
FTC spokesman Peter Kaplan confirmed the agency received the letter, but declined further comment.
In the letter, Udall also refers to what he terms "misleading safety claims used in online video advertisements for helmets." He specifically cites Riddell and Schutt Sports.
"After reviewing Senator Udall's letter to the Federal Trade Commission, we believe his statements and allegations are unfounded and unfair," Riddell CEO Dan Arment said in a statement e-mailed to the AP.
"Riddell has consistently maintained a policy of transparency with all of our research and products and participated in any helmet test when requested. Riddell has exceeded all of the industry standards and conducts and submits to more rigorous testing than most companies in other industries," Arment's statement added.
Arment continued: "We welcome any scrutiny and review. For the public's benefit, we hope that the FTC will provide greater scrutiny of all helmet manufacturers."
In a memo to Udall's office, Schutt Sports president and CEO Robert Erb said that after reviewing a draft of the letter sent to the FTC, "We ... believe it to mischaracterize the position of our company on the important issue of helmet protection — particularly as it relates to a helmet's ability or inability to protect against concussive episodes."
Erb continued: "At no time do we claim, or intimate, that our helmets are 'anti-concussion, 'concussion proof, 'concussion reducing' or the like."
As for Udall's reference to Schutt's online advertisements, Erb wrote: "We find it extraordinary that these videos are being cast by the Senator as misleading. It is difficult to miss the parody. ... We take great exception to the Senator's painting us as a company intending to mislead."
In November, Udall asked the Consumer Product Safety Commission to investigate whether safety standards for football helmets are adequate to protect players from concussions. Udall serves on the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees the CPSC.
CPSC staff will meet this month with the nonprofit corporation that sets industry standards for helmets — the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) — to discuss safety concerns.
Udall's letter to the FTC's Leibowitz says the "voluntary industry standard for football helmets does not specifically address concussion prevention or reduction."
Helmets used in NFL, NCAA and high school football are supposed to pass a test developed by NOCSAE.
Associated Press writer Jennifer C. Kerr contributed to this report.