Earlier this week Mike Oliver, executive director of the National Operating Committee on Sports Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE), explained to me that the organization’s pre-Super Bowl public alert to athletes and parents made no reference to a new Federal Trade Commission investigation of Riddell football helmet promotional claims because “we certainly don’t feel as though we are in a position to speak on behalf of the FTC.”
Yet last week MIT’s Technology Review reported that “Oliver says he has talked with [Senator Tom] Udall and is encouraging the [FTC] investigation.” See “What’s Next for Concussions in Football?”, http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/editors/26350/?p1=A5.
So if NOCSAE is encouraging the investigation, why isn’t it telling athletes and parents that the investigation exists?
Oliver says test data show that all the helmets on the market are nearly identical in performance. By “performance,” he seems to mean preventing concussions.
Meanwhile, Dr. Joseph Maroon, whose National Football League-funded study and Neurosurgery article are used by Riddell to hype its Revolution helmet as showing a 31 percent reduced concussion risk – the central claim under scrutiny by the FTC – told Technology Review, “There is a lot about concussions and head injury that researchers don’t fully understand.”
Yeah, sure. But aren’t articles in clinical journals supposed to be about what researchers believe they do understand? Where’s the accountability here?
Maroon serves the information-gap market by peddling to the NFL and others “imPACT,” a software system that measures neurological function. Similarly, the punch line of NOCSAE’s message to Technology Review is that the league plans to start using Riddell’s patented “HIT sensor” inside helmets to measure location, magnitude, and direction of blows during games.
Oliver, according to TR: Any claim “not based in fact or science is potentially very damaging.” Concussions in football are “a complex issue” and “it won’t be until we can really understand the injury that we can build better helmet technology.” But he’s “confident that will happen, soon.”
While the careerist experts busy themselves handing out and receiving grants, and delivering self-serving lectures on the complexity of it all, it’s time for Congress to step in with public hearings. Oliver may be “confident” about the march of commercial technology. The rest of us, however, have unanswered questions about the interaction of that process with the dissemination of basic public health information.
And a good place to start is with Joseph Maroon, doctor and public special teams player for both the National Football League and World Wrestling Entertainment.