ELYRIA — Losing their exclusive NFL contract isn’t a major blow to Riddell, a spokeswoman for the football helmet company said Monday.
None of the approximately 1,700 NFL players have to wear Riddell helmets, but many do. And since 1989, it has been the only helmet name that could be shown on television, a major marketing tool. Nonetheless, Riddell spokeswoman Erin Griffin downplayed the contract not being renewed, which was reported by ESPN Friday.
In a news release, Griffin wrote that the expiration won’t affect operations at the 140,000-square foot plant at 669 Sugar Lane. The plant, which opened in 1998, employs 260 full-time workers and up to 175 seasonal employees. Griffin said Riddell sells about 50 percent of the approximately 1 million helmets sold annually.
The NFL dropping Riddell comes in the midst of lawsuits filed against the company by former college and NFL players accusing Riddell of not warning them about the danger of concussions. In April, Riddell paid $3.1 million of an $11.5 million lawsuit by Colorado high school football player Rhett Ridolfi filed against the company and school administrators.
Ridolfi suffered severe brain damage and paralysis. A jury found Riddell – which is appealing the verdict – negligent in not warning about concussion injuries, according to USA Today. While the jury said the Revolution helmet was not defective, Riddell has been accused in the past of exaggerating its safety.
As the company was debuting the helmet in 2002, it was warned by the University of Pittsburgh Medical College which it had employed to study the helmet, that it was exaggerating it safety, according to an ESPN/Frontline report. A Riddell news release said the helmet, “provides better protection against concussions.”
The report said the college sent an email deleting the original press release and saying, “we can’t say it provides better protection.” The college also changed Riddell’s claim that wearing the helmet reduces the chance of concussion by 31 percent to, “in terms of relative risk.”
Riddell kept the original claims in the press release, according to the report. The report also said Riddell was told in 2000 by Biokinetics, a biomechanical company it hired, that while helmets can prevent skull fractures, “no helmet can prevent concussions.”
Griffin wouldn’t comment about the accusations directly, but in a written statement defended Riddell.
“We are proud of the Riddell Revolution helmet and the enduring progress it has brought to the helmet industry and the game of football,” Griffin wrote. “We stand behind our research, our product and our marketing efforts.”