Senators Challenge sports equipment complaints

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Senators and medical witnesses on Wednesday criticized some sports equipment manufacturers for touting the products as reducing concussions, saying they misled consumers because the claims are not supported by scientific evidence.

“Now that athletes, coaches and parents have a better understanding of concussions, some sports equipment manufacturers seem to be taking advantage,” Senator Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, said in a hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transport. “There are a number of so-called citation, concussion, and concussion reduction devices on the market. … We need to make sure advertisers play by the rules.

He singled out several companies, including Riddell, who claims his Revolution helmet helps reduce concussions, and Brain-Pad, who raves about exploding packaging for the hearing, “Reduces the risk of concussions!” »Impacts of the lower jaw. The packaging states that his equipment creates a “BRAIN SAFETY SPACE!” “

Dr Ann McKee, professor of neurology and pathology at Boston University, said there was no evidence that mouthguards reduced the rate or severity of concussions.

“So I would have a big objection to that claim,” she said.

Dr Jeffrey Kutcher, assistant professor of neurology at the University of Michigan and director of Michigan Neurosport, a clinic that diagnoses and treats concussions in athletes, said that no piece of equipment can significantly prevent them. concussions.

“The potential harm that I see being caused by products that claim to prevent concussions when they don’t is much more than the simple financial harm of paying more for something that isn’t likely to work the way we do. claims so, “he said. “It’s the evil that comes from having a false sense of security, of not understanding how the injury occurs and what can actually be done to prevent it.”

Udall has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate what he calls “misleading safety claims and deceptive practices” in the marketing of football helmets. He also introduced legislation giving the industry nine months to develop new standards that address concussion risks and the specific needs of young players. The bill would criminalize the sale of any sports equipment that makes false or misleading claims about safety benefits.

In a statement Wednesday night, Riddell said advancements in technology have improved the ability of football helmets to reduce the incidence of concussions, although no helmet available today can claim to prevent concussions. But the company reported a University of Pittsburgh medical center that found that Riddell Revolution reduced the risk of concussion by 31%.

“We are confident that this research data is reliable and accurate,” said Riddell.

However, a co-author of the study, UPMC neurosurgeon Joe Maroon, told the New York Times this year that he disagreed with Riddell’s commercialization of this figure without acknowledging the limitations. of the study.

Brain-Pad did not resend phone and email messages after business hours on Wednesday.

Committee chair Senator Jay Rockefeller said after the hearing that sports equipment manufacturers “are exploiting” Americans’ growing concern about concussions by marketing concussion products.

“The American public has a lot of legitimate questions about the risk of concussions in sport and they deserve honest answers,” he said.

The danger of head injuries in the sport was highlighted last week, when a 16-year-old high school soccer player died after being hit during a varsity game in upstate New York. A handful of high school students suffer fatal injuries in the field each fall, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research at the University of North Carolina.

The committee also heard from two former college athletes who had to give up their careers due to repeated concussions. Alexis Ball, a student and former football player at the University of New Mexico, said she suffered five concussions before college and five more while in college. She said she has been wearing a helmet since her second concussion in high school, which was supposed to help prevent future concussions – but it obviously isn’t.

Ball said the pressure to return causes athletes to lie about their conditions, especially concussions, and she returned to the field too quickly.

“I knew the answers needed to get back into play,” she said. “No one could prove whether I had a headache or not, so I tended to lie. In retrospect, it was a really bad decision, but I didn’t understand the severity of concussions at the time.”

Steven Threet, a student at Arizona State University, was the school’s starting quarterback until a fourth concussion forced him to quit playing.

“A football helmet is often seen as a protector of the brain, when in reality it is designed to protect the bone structure of the individual, not the brain,” he said. “If a helmet could guarantee the prevention of concussions, I would continue to play football. “

Mike Oliver, executive director of the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, which sets voluntary testing standards for football helmets and other sporting goods, said no helmet standard specifically addresses concussion prevention .

“Without strong scientific backing for a concussion-specific modification of an existing helmet standard, any modification made to combat concussions becomes nothing more than a promising experiment, turning players into unwitting test subjects.” , did he declare. “And that’s something we won’t do.”

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