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Riddell faces suit on concealed concussion risks

Posted On: Jul. 19, 2016 12:00 AM CST

Former Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl receiver Yancey Thigpen and other former NFL players have filed a lawsuit against helmet manufacturer Riddell Inc. charging the Rosemont, Illinois-based company failed to warn the players about the extent in which their helmets provided protection.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday by the Chicago-based law firm Corboy & Demetrio and the Miami-based firm The Brad Sohn Law Firm P.L.L.C., alleges that during his career Mr. Thigpen sustained “numerous concussive and sub-concussive brain traumas” while wearing a Riddell helmet.

In addition to the Steelers, Mr. Thigpen played football for 10 seasons in the NFL for the San Diego Charges and the Tennessee Titans from 1991-2000. Prior to his NFL career, he starred at Winston-Salem State University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the lawsuit said.

The complaint charges that in 1939, Riddell started making plastic helmets “under the guise that plastic helmets would be safer than those made of leather.”

Riddell “knew of the harmful long-term effects of brain traumas sustained by football players while wearing Riddell's supposedly effective equipment,” said the complaint filed in Cook County Circuit Court. “However, it misrepresented and concealed these facts from” Mr. Thigpen and the other players.

Riddell hid this information from Mr. Thigpen, the complaint said, to induce him to continue using its product and to induce the public to purchase its products worn by football stars.

Riddell never warned Mr. Thigpen and the other players that its plastic helmets would not prevent or diminish brain traumas associated with playing football.

In addition, the company never warned Mr. Thigpen and the other players that its helmets would not prevent concussions and “that concussions and sub-concussive brain traumas could, and would, cause permanent brain damage.”

The other players who brought the lawsuit were Gregory Boone, Larry Brinson, Michael Butler, Melvin Carver, Craig Curry, James Harrell, Willard Harrell, Robert Harris, Carlton “Bailey” Jones, Brad Quast, Thomas “John” Reaves, John Michael Reichenbach, Adam Schreiber and Eric Wright.

NFL Hall of Famer and Heisman Trophy Winner Paul Hornung recently filed a similar lawsuit, claiming the plastic helmet he was provided failed to protect his brain and that Riddell failed to warn him of the helmet's risk.

Mr. Hornung suffered numerous concussions during his professional career and has been diagnosed with dementia, which has been linked to repetitive head trauma.

He won the Heisman Trophy in 1956, while playing in a leather helmet for the University of Notre Dame, the law firm said.

In the NFL, he played running back for the Green Bay Packers from 1957 to 1966, leading the league in scoring for three straight seasons and winning four NFL titles and the first Super Bowl, all while wearing a plastic Riddell helmet.

A Riddell spokesperson said the company does not comment on pending litigation.