The New York Times has a look at the various warning labels that exist on football helmets. You know, the little stickers you've never read? If you had, you'd have noticed one manufacturer's blunt instructions on how to safely use a football helmet: don't.
For a decade, Schutt Sports has added its own safety tip to the boilerplate language mandated by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment. Schutt's addition is striking:
No helmet system can protect you from serious brain and/or neck injuries including paralysis or death. To avoid these risks, do not engage in the sport of football.
It's true! Not that anyone is going to first learn that football is dangerous from a tiny sticker on the helmet they've already purchased to play football. So why does Schutt do this, while larger helmet makers like Riddell (who just lost a lawsuit brought by a brain-damaged high school player) go with the bare minimum?
Schutt's CEO insists that this isn't a publicity stunt, and it's not fearmongering. "It was to tell you to look both ways when you cross the street, not 'don’t cross the street,'" he told the Times.
But I have this sneaking suspicion that it's a grand CYA exercise, and I'm not the only one. Most previous warning labels advise only against improper use of the helmet—this is the NFL's standard line, that players can stay safe if they use proper tackling form. But the newest research says otherwise, says that football is inherently dangerous. That prevents a problem for helmet manufacturers: they are theoretically liable if players get hurt even while using the product as recommended.
So this new language could be an attempt to shut down those lawsuits. We warned you football was dangerous.
“They are saying to the public that you should buy our helmet, and they’re saying, if someone gets hurt, don’t blame us,” said Michael Kaplen, a lawyer who leads the New York State Traumatic Brain Injury Services Coordinating Council. “The selling of helmets is being done by the marketing department, and the label is made up by the legal department.”
Not that a warning label has ever prevented a lawsuit, but for a company to come out and say flatly "this sport might injure you" is probably a good thing. Football won't disappear once everyone is aware of the risks, but we're inching closer to the inevitable time when the decision to play is an informed one.