According to a recent study, Schutt Sports makes very good football helmets. Its marketing is raising a few eyebrows, though.
In an age of heightened awareness about the dangers of football concussions, Schutt last week introduced a new helmet it named Vengeance. "NFL and college-level football players will soon have the opportunity to face their foes head-on with Vengeance," the press release reads.
Doctors who treat head injuries and a former player expressed surprise at the combative tone of the helmet's name, saying they believe it sends the wrong message.
Dr. Michael Neely, a sports medicine specialist and owner of New York Sports Medicine and Physical Therapy, called the name "silly and odd." "If you're thinking 'vengeance,' you're thinking of using it as more of an offensive type thing as opposed to protecting somebody," he said.
Dr. Alok Chaudhari, a neurosurgeon at Harris Methodist Hospital in Forth Worth, Texas, said, "I would say it probably doesn't quite portray the right mentality. It gives the message that you're impervious and can exact vengeance on other players without hurting yourself."
Schutt CEO Robert Erb said Vengeance referred to the company's competition with rival manufacturer Riddell, which was awarded $29 million in a patent infringement suit against Schutt in 2010. Schutt then filed for bankruptcy but, after being sold in December 2010, has since recovered. Erb added that the helmets are not marketed directly to consumers and the word Vengeance does not appear on the product. "I don't think that it matters," he said.
But the name figures prominently in marketing copy, which was published on several websites. And there is no mention of Schutt's conflict with Riddell in its press release.
Former Patriots defensive back Eugene Profit said the name and press release were too aggressive. "When you have so much conversation about concussions, in this context, it can be problematic."
Both the NFL and the NFL Players Association declined comment.
Controversy surrounding concussions erupted in 2009 when The New York Times exposed the after-effects among former NFL players. The findings led to a Congressional hearing and rules changes at most levels of play. Some were aimed at preventing players from using their helmets as battering rams. In July, 75 ex-NFL players sued the league for allegedly concealing what it knew about the dangers of head trauma. (Riddell was also named in the suit.) Depression, memory loss and early-onset Dementia have been found in many players. In Februrary, Dave Duerson, a 50-year-old former Chicago Bear who suffered from a dementia-like brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, shot himself dead in the heart to preserve his brain to be studied.
None of the above is connected to Schutt helmets. But the issue of brain injuries among NFL players continues to fester. Schutt's product launch comes as the NFL playoffs move into the second round this weekend. In one game last weekend, New York Giants cornerback Aaron Ross and running back D.J. Ware both left with concussion-like symptoms.
Regardless, one advertising expert wonders if Schutt's marketing strategy makes the grade at all.
Donald Lichtenstein, a marketing professor at Colorado's Leeds School of Business said: "If you did a survey of consumers asking if helmets are to protect, does vengeance mean aggression or protection? I think you'd get 10 out of 10 people saying aggression."