Posted by Abe Sauer on November 11, 2010 12:30 PM
Just weeks ago, Philadelphia Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson was involved in the hit heard round the league. Carted off the field on a stretcher, Jackson unknowingly launched a sport-wide controversy about brain injuries and protection of football players. The NFL promised to be more vigilant. Players revolted. Bob Costas donned an extra layer of sanctimony.
Now, taking the maxim seriously about an opportunity in every crisis, sporting goods brand Schutt has found an unlikely spokesman: The spectacularly-concussed NFL star DeSean Jackson.
Video of Jackson's gruesome injury:
Prior to his return to the field on Sunday, Jackson announced that he would be wearing a new helmet from Schutt "designed to limit the risk of concussions" through new "impact-absorbing technologies." The product, with a name like a cross-branded effort between Microsoft and Nike, is called the "Air XP." (Promo video at top.)
Whether or not the helmet had anything to do with it, Jackson's return to the field two days ago was a success. The receiver caught seven passes for 109 yards and one touchdown. Schutt , natch, did not fail to point out all this good press.
This endorsement comes as all brands involved in the sport of football find themselves somehow under pressure, with those involved in head injuries (helmet makers) facing complete PR crises. Schutt's homepage currently features a dominant section titled "Shooting holes in common misperceptions," which addresses an unfavorable recent New York Times report on football and head injuries.
Now obviously, the common sense question from fans, parents and maybe some players is that if a "better" helmet exists, why isn't everyone using it? Here, the NFL faces its own head-injuries quandary.
One reason is that the NFL has a contract with competitor brand Riddell. The league allows players to wear alternative brands of helmet as long as none of the logos are visible. So while the reality is that players are free to find the safest helmet, this kind of (lucrative) exclusive marketing deal by the NFL is a PR black eye, suggesting the league is more interested in monetizing every last opportunity than doing what's best for players.
Of course, the NFL could standardize its requirements for helmets, asking players to all wear the latest in safety technology. But, it's likely NFL lawyers understand that anything the NFL makes "compulsory" also makes the NFL "complicit." The way it is now, the NFL can point to the players as the final arbiters of their own safety decisions.