Senator Wants Federal Investigation of Helmet Makers

January 4, 2011 - 6:26 AM

Washington (AP) - A U.S. 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.

In a letter dated Tuesday -- a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press on Monday night -- Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., tells 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."

In his letter to the FTC's Leibowitz, Udall 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."

In the letter -- which was first reported by The New York Times -- 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."

A Schutt Sports spokesman said the company was aware of Udall's letter but declined comment.

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.

His letter to the FTC's Leibowitz says the "voluntary industry standard for football helmets does not specifically address concussion prevention or reduction." That standard is set by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE), a nonprofit corporation.

Helmets used in NFL, NCAA and high school football are supposed to pass a test developed by NOCSAE. The group's website says it establishes "voluntary test standards"; that "manufacturers test their own helmets"; and that "NOCSAE does not possess a surveillance force to ensure compliance with the standards."

Udall also wants the FTC to "look into potential false and deceptive practices related to the reconditioning of used helmets."

He writes: "NOCSAE and the National Athletic Equipment Reconditioning Association (NAERA) do not conduct market surveillance or follow up testing of helmets to ensure compliance with their certifications. Moreover, there is no standard for how often used helmets must be recertified. Such potentially dangerous used helmets are commonly worn by players at all levels of football."