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Senators Question Validity of Football Helmet Safety Claims

The ESEA markup isn't the only education-related excitement happening on Capitol Hill this week.

Some senators and medical witnesses spent Wednesday on the attack against youth sports equipment makers for potentially misleading advertising.

They specifically criticized the football helmet makers who advertise their products as being able to reduce concussions, despite no scientific evidence proving such.

"Now that athletes, coaches and parents have a better understanding of concussions, some sports equipment makers appear to be a taking advantage," Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said at a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing, according to the Associated Press. "There are a number of so-called, quote, anti-concussion and concussion-reducing devices on the market. ... We need to make sure advertisers play by the rules."

Earlier this year, Udall introduced legislation that would give the sports equipment industry nine months to upgrade the safety standards of football helmets. If they failed to make substantial changes, the Consumer Product Safety Commission would be required to step in and develop the new safety regulations themselves.

Currently, the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment oversees the safety standards on football helmets and other athletic equipment. NOCSAE currently does not require football helmets to be tested against the forces suspected of causing concussions (while hockey and lacrosse helmets must be tested this way).

Udall also asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate two helmet manufactures for false and misleading claims earlier this year, one of which was Riddell.

On Wednesday, Udall singled out Riddell again, as they're still using a University of Pittsburgh study from 2006 to suggest that their Riddell Revolution helmet reduces the risk of concussion by 31 percent.

One of the University of Pittsburgh study's co-authors, Joe Maroon, told The New York Times earlier this year that the authors "have recommended further investigations, better controls, and with larger numbers" to validate the data. Otherwise, statements should be made "with the limitations that we emphasized, and not extrapolated to studies that we suggest should be done and haven't been done yet."

If Udall's legislation passes in its current form, the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general would have more power to punish sports equipment manufacturers who make false and/or misleading claims about the safety standards of their equipment.

"The potential harm that I see being caused by products that claim to prevent concussion when they do not is far more than simply the financial harm of paying more for something that isn't likely to work as claimed," Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Michigan, testified on Wednesday. "It is the harm that comes from having a false sense of security, from not understanding how the injury occurs and what can actually be done to prevent it."

For footage of the full two-hour panel, check out C-SPAN's coverage:

Want all the latest K-12 sports news? Follow @SchooledinSport on Twitter.

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