Why Didn’t NFL and WWE’s Dr. Maroon Speak Up About the Riddell Helmet Advertising Claims?

It’s all well and good that Dr. Joseph Maroon now agrees with Senator Tom Udall’s call for a Federal Trade Commission investigation of the Riddell manufacturer’s claim of a 31 percent reduction in concussions for its Revolution helmet model.

 

The number came from a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center study conducted by Maroon and published in the journal Neurosurgery. The paper was co-authored by Riddell’s chief engineer and the research was funded by NFL Charities, the philanthrophic arm of the National Football League.

 

The New York Times’ Alan Schwarz, whose investigative article last October on the unreliable work of the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) helped spur Senator Udall’s call to the FTC, reported that Maroon “disagreed with Riddell’s marketing the 31 percent figure without acknowledging its limitations, and supported Udall’s request for a formal scrutiny.”

Maroon told The Times: “That was the data that came out, but the authors of that study on multiple occasions have recommended further investigations, better controls and with larger numbers. If one is going to make statements relative to the paper we wrote, it should be with the limitations that we emphasized, and not extrapolated to studies that we suggest should be done and haven’t been done yet.”

Udall’s letter to the FTC cites a Riddell promotional video on YouTube, “The Pinnacle of Protection and Performance,” hyping the Maroon study. The video was posted last September, a month before Schwarz’s expose of NOCSAE.

But the senator is actually too kind. On the RiddellSports YouTube channel, there is earlier and even more explicit evidence. “Keep Your Head Safe: The Riddell Revolution Football Helmet,” http://www.youtube.com/user/RiddellSports#p/f/10/DJTdrNJG-Dc, posted on July 29, 2008, begins:

“Research published in the February 2006 issue of Neurosurgery reveals that players wearing the Riddell Revolution were 31 percent less likely to suffer a concussion than those wearing traditional football helmets. The study, conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, evaluated  more than 2,000 high school football players over a three-year period, and determined the rate of concussions for players wearing Riddell’s new Revolution helmet versus traditional helmets. The helmet design was based on extensive research funded by NFL Charities.”

I asked The Times’ Schwarz if he had sought elaboration from Dr. Maroon as to where, when, and to whom he had ever objected to Riddell’s advertising claims exploiting his research. Schwarz declined comment.

Neither Maroon nor NFL spokesman Greg Aiello has responded to my email asking for specifics on any dissents to Riddell expressed by either Maroon or NFL Charities.

To reinforce the themes of this blog, the involvement of one of the NFL’s concussion experts in exaggerated claims by Riddell should not be limited to this probe by Senator Udall and the FTC. Joseph Maroon is also the medical director of World Wrestling Entertainment, and the undue influence of industry on his medical and scientific work also has become part of the investigation of pro wrestling’s death pandemic, which must be pursued by Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, the White House Office of National Drug Policy, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and/or the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

 

Irv Muchnick

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