Antonio Brown gave us all a nice bit of theater on Friday afternoon in the form of a Hall of Fame tweet thread from Mike Silver and then immediately thereafter news from Adam Schefter that the wide receiver would consider retirement if he had to play with a new helmet.
Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic floated the idea that Brown would pursue a liability case against the NFL if he were forced to wear a new helmet and sustained a major head injury:
“And I think it’ll be interesting if the NFL forces Antonio to wear a different helmet,” the source said. “And he does play and he doesn’t retire as some people have reported he will do. And then he suffers a really severe injury. I’d hate to be the NFL. Because now you’ve forced him into wearing a different type of helmet. And I think at that point, though, the liability will be dramatic.”
Given that the NFL’s helmet regulations are collectively bargained, it’s hard to figure out how he’d have a case. Michael McCann, the legal expert for Sports Illustrated, went through the various litigation scenarios and concluded that “Brown would probably not have a viable case if he sues over an injury while wearing an authorized helmet.”
The helmet that Brown wears, an old model of the Schutt Air Advantage, was discontinued by the company. They essentially explained that they did so because it was less safe than new technology:
We discontinued making the helmet three years ago because current helmet technology had moved past it. The AiR Advantage was the last varsity helmet made by Schutt that featured traditional foam padding. That material, which is used by most other helmet manufacturers, does not perform as well as the TPU Cushioning we now use in all of our varsity helmets. TPU (thermoplastic urethane) Cushioning absorbs significantly more impact across a wider variety of temperatures than any other helmet on the field. Third party testing by an independent, certified helmet testing facility has proven that, three years in a row. The AiR Advantage had lived out its useful life as a product and was discontinued when something better was developed.
It’s perhaps understandable that Brown preferred this helmet for its lightweight functionality rather than its safety, but it’s just hard from the outside how he could make any type of legal case for it if he did wind up getting hurt with a new NFL-approved helmet.