The message in Riddell suit? Top safety priority is better education

What's the fallout from helmet manufacturer Riddell being held responsible for $3.1 million in damages in a Colorado lawsuit?

I have been associated with football medical lawsuits involving helmet companies in the past, and the helmet companies are bound to lose most of the time. It's only a matter of time before there is no profit in manufacturing helmets, and getting equipment will become a big problem.

The good news in the Colorado ruling against Riddell is that the company lost its case for not informing the injured player of the risks of brain injuries. Most helmets have printed information in the helmet warning players of the risks of head injuries and coaches usually do a very good job of discussing proper techniques to play the game safely. The jury did not find the helmets defective.

The ruling comes as Riddell faces a similar lawsuit in Los Angeles, as well as a complaint from thousands of former NFL players against the league and Riddell.

At the NFL level, helmets are rarely defective because there is a constant turnover of equipment. At the high school level where there are many more players, and budgets are always an issue. Reconditioning is a major factor in the safety of the helmets. At times the reconditioning companies have been at fault in providing proper reconditioning.

I have always felt the helmet companies along with the medical people and equipment staff should fit every player personally and that no helmet substitute should be allowed. There are too many players with helmets a few sizes too big in order to fit all their hair into the helmet.

I have had NFL players tell me they grab an oversized helmet to fit their hair in, and there's no way a helmet manufacturer should be blamed for players using improperly fitted equipment. I also feel the proper fitting of each helmet, plus the watching of a video on the risks involved with playing football, should be videotaped by every football program in the country from Pop Warner to the NFL and stored when these lawsuits come up.

The NFL is working overtime to make the game safer, and it starts with knowledge of the risks involved, and it goes to proper equipment, and then to coaching techniques and finally officiating the game. Football can last a long time if everything is done with safety in mind.


Pat Kirwan has been around the league since 1972, serving in a variety of roles. He was a scout for the Cardinals and Buccaneers, a coach for the Jets as well as the team's Director of Player Administration where he negotiated contracts and managed the team's salary cap. He is the author of Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, and the host of Sirius NFL Radio's Moving the Chains.
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