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October 24, 2004

Schutt Excels At Brain Protection

IN THE SIXTIES there was a memorable print ad for a premium manufacturer (at a premium price) of motorcycle helmets that offered an unsettling challenge, “If you’ve got a $30 head, buy a $30 helmet.”

Of course, all motorcyclists (well, most of them maybe) thought they had nearly priceless heads, so they invested the extra dollars in the best-of-breed Bell helmets.

Indeed, who among us wants to scrimp on head protection? We all know that brain injuries can be fatal, or cause lasting problems.

The concern starts with an athlete’s overall well-being, to help them last a season or a career without serious injury.

Furthermore, in these litigious times, what school district, college or pro team wants to face never-ending court battles questioning whether injured athletes had the best available protective equipment?

Thus, the last place an athletic program will look to cut costs is protective equipment for contact sports, especially helmets. It’s a no-brainer (oops, I had to).

Enter Schutt Sports Inc. of Litchfield, Illinois, one of the last remaining family-run sporting goods companies in the US. Schutt is the largest maker of college and high school football helmets and faceguards in the world.

Family-run Schutt may be, but they did some $50 million last year, up 16% from the previous year. Schutt employs more than 400 workers in Illinois.

Meanwhile, the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association estimates that the overall sporting goods industry rolls up to about $110 billion each year. That’s a lot of shoes, gloves, jerseys, nets, goals, balls, baskets, bats and sticks.

One of Schutt's newest innovations is the DNA helmet. It's the first time the primary shock absorption is not foam. Instead, the helmet has a new shock-absorbing Skydex technology that was developed for Army paratrooper helmets. Kevlar and carbon-fibre cannot be far behind.

Helmet makers in particular have been beset by a flurry of debilitating lawsuits, many of which have had no basis. There have been small helmet manufacturers forced out of business because of legal and insurance costs.

Not surprisingly, the Schutt Sports has taken a keen interest in the movement for tort reform, particularly limits on plaintiffs’ claims.

More later . . . .


(this 358 word excerpt—with accompanying commentary—was distilled from a 765 word article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of 10-20-04)