This season helmets used at the college level must meet standards laid down by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, a group made up of sporting-goods manufacturers, the NCAA, junior colleges and trainers. The standards are an attempt to unify against faulty manufacturing practices and would seem a step in the right direction. But Trial magazine, the monthly journal of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, has already called the NOCSAE standards "dismally inadequate" and "low-level." "A sure harbinger of litigation to come," says Calhoun. "The lawyers smell blood."
In fact, the issue of Trial in which the helmet critique appeared was devoted entirely to sports litigation. Various bases for lawsuits and how to prepare them were presented. Cases were made against the helmets and the use of synthetic turf. Trial said that if "coaches are willing to buy inferior helmets, then industry stands willing to participate [for profit] in the crippling of our youth." It recommended that substandard helmets be banned, that coaches who teach helmet-first techniques be fired and that parents be apprised of the risk with consent forms.
Finding the battle lines drawn, equipment manufacturers have pushed for a bill in Congress to provide liability-judgment limitation. Says Howard Bruns, president of the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, "The sporting-goods industry itself is under attack. The question is, will football survive?"
"It won't," says Dr. Cooper, echoing a prediction Joe Paterno once heard. "If we don't do something, everybody will be playing soccer."
No, not everybody.
Robert Francis Mudd Jr. will not be playing soccer.
He has been paralyzed since making a tackle in a Stockton, Calif. high school scrimmage seven years ago. A $3 million suit was filed on Mudd's behalf by attorneys, one of whom was former San Diego Charger All-Pro Tackle Ron Mix. The suit alleged that the face-to-numbers technique taught at Lincoln High was inherently unsafe and that coaches and schools were negligent in permitting it.
The trial set a San Joaquin County record for civil jury trials by taking four months to complete.
He has, his parents believe, also lost in life. "You wonder what kind of life he's going to have," says his mother. "Will he meet someone? Will he be able to get married? It's just a catastrophe, there is no other way to put it."