U.S. Senator Tom Udall, D-NM has requested that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigate false and misleading concussion safety claims in advertising for football helmets, specifically those sold for use by young children.
U.S. Senator Calls for Football Helmet Investigation
In a letter to the FTC's chairman, Udall specifically cited alleged dubious marketing claims from helmet makers Riddell and Schutt Sports.
In the letter, Udall writes that he is “concerned about potential unfair and deceptive practices related to the sales of football helmets, especially those advertised for children’s use ” Udall writes that the industry standard for helmets “does not specifically address concussion prevention or reduction” and adds that “companies that sell new helmets appear to be using misleading advertising claims about the safety and performance of their products ” Finally, Udall alleges that “helmet reconditioning companies may be falsely selling used helmets as meeting an industry safety standard.”
Udall's letter points to specific advertising examples and practices that he said are likely to mislead parents and coaches of young football players.
Riddell, a leading helmet maker that supplies the official helmet to the National Football League, claims that independent research demonstrates its newer design helmets reduce the risk of concussion by 31%. Yet Udall said this claim is based on a single study — paid for by Riddell and co-authored by a Riddell employee — that examined just 136 high school football players who experienced concussions. Udall said Riddell does not disclose these facts in its marketing, adding that the company similarly advertises helmets for young children which were not tested in the study. In a response to the letter, Riddell CEO Dan Arment said in a statement to the Associated Press that Udall’s allegations are “unfounded and unfair.”
Udall's letter also cites the example of a Schutt Sports online video advertisement that supposedly demonstrates the protection of their new helmet designs compared to other helmets by dropping a bowling ball onto a watermelon wrapped in Schutt padding and repeating the same test with other foam padding. Udall said this video and other online advertisements cited in the letter could violate the FTC's advertising substantiation standard and Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act.
According to the AP, Schutt CEO Robert Erb also responded, issuing a memo to Udall’s office saying Udall’s letter “mischaracterize(s) the position of our company ” and adding that Schutt takes “great exception” to Udall’s allegations.
In November, Udall asked the Consumer Product Safety Commission to investigate the adequacy of voluntary helmet safety standards for addressing concussion risks to football players, especially high school age and younger athletes.