The Pro Football Concussion Report

A Fan's Look at Head Injuries and the Concussion Crisis in Football

Label vs. Label

Could this be the Future of the Helmet Warning?


As we and our burgeoning e-commerce world get more used to ignoring lengthy privacy policies and nonchalantly agreeing to online user agreements, it seems that these documents are getting longer. And the longer these legal agreements are written, the less likely anybody is to actually read any of them. Seriously, how many of the 575 million iTunes users have read the 58 page user agreement before clicking on the box to confirm that they’ve read it, understand it, and agree with it.  Who knows what deal 575 million human beings have made with Apple?

That brings us to today’s Riddell consumer football helmet and its warning label. As sold in retail stores, the helmet comes with a large, cumbersome warning. But what’s the point?

“NO HELMET CAN PREVENT SERIOUS HEAD OR NECK INJURIES A PLAYER MIGHT RECEIVE WHILE PARTICIPATING IN FOOTBALL. Do not use this helmet to butt, ram, or spear an opposing player. This is in violation of the football rules and such use can result in severe head or neck injuries, paralysis or death to you and possible injury to your opponent. Contact in football may result in CONCUSSION BRAIN INJURY which no helmet can prevent. Symptoms include: loss of consciousness or memory, dizziness, headache, nausea or confusion. If you have symptoms, immediately stop playing and report them to your coach, trainer and parents. Do not return to a game or practice until all symptoms are gone and you have received MEDICAL CLEARANCE. Ignoring this warning may lead to another and more serious or fatal brain injury.”

So, is that mouthful intended to educate or minimize legal responsibility, or both? Certainly, these days that information doesn’t provide much new education to youth or parents who are purchasing a football helmet. The label leaves out specific references to second impact syndrome, brain damage from repetitive subconcussive blows, and cumulative brain damage. It also reinforces the common, but unlikely diagnosis that once concussion symptoms are gone, the brain injury has healed and it is safe for Johnny to return to play. Additional words and phrases left out on the label include “permanent injury,” “brain damage,” “depression” and “thoughts of suicide.”  As far as reducing Riddell’s legal liability, the label may actually do more harm than good for Riddell. In a piece for Forbes magazine, attorney Darren Heitner discusses the idea that plaintiffs could try to introduce the warning label as evidence to to prove claims such as negligence and design defect.

On the otherhand, we have the most ubiquitous warning label ever seen. The tobacco label.

“SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Smoking causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, and May Complicate Pregnancy.”

Of course the label on a pack of cigarettes has been on the radar of the tobacco industry, the regulators and the lawyers for almost 50 years. In 1965, the United States Congress passed the Cigarette Labelling and Advertising Act. The cigarette label has undergone very little change since the first mandated version:

“Cigarettes may be hazardous to your health”

Ironically, since  the Family Smoking Preventing and Tobacco Control Act of 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the tobacco companies have been going back and forth on “enhanced” new labels.

Perhaps someday, after a few billion dollars worth of litigation, we’ll see a newer, more concise label on the Riddell football helmet, courtesy of the Surgeon General.


Related Stories

Football Helmets Won’t Ever Prevent Concussions

Helmet Wars: Riddell vs. All-Comers


Return to Home