Column: A toy called the Black Panther Slash Claw — what could possibly go wrong?
It’s the sort of toy many parents would look at and immediately say, “I don’t think so.”
Toymaker Hasbro calls it the Marvel Black Panther Slash Claw and says it will make children as young as 5 “ready to pounce!”
“Kids can imagine slashing into action like the warrior hero, Black Panther, with this movie-inspired Black Panther Slash Claw, featuring retractable claws that push in and extend out depending on movement,” Hasbro says. “Press claws into a hard surface to retract, or strike hand forward to extend.”
The $9.99 Black Panther Slash Claw was one of 10 toys highlighted by the advocacy group World Against Toys Causing Harm, a.k.a. WATCH, as being among the “worst toys of 2018.”
“These rigid, plastic claws, based on a popular comic book and movie character, are sold to 5-year-olds to ‘slash’ like the Black Panther, while simultaneously advising not to ‘hit or swing at people,’” the group warned.
Also on this year’s WATCH list, released last week, is a Power Rangers sword for kids as young as 4 that features a spring-loaded plastic blade that can cause “facial and other impact injuries.”
Not to mention a plastic fruit-cutting set for kids age 2 and up that includes a plastic “slicing knife” that can cause “puncture wounds and other blunt trauma injuries.”
A separate rundown of dangerous toys is scheduled to be released Tuesday by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
I wouldn’t expect the toy industry to embrace such lists and say, “Thank you so much for pointing out products that may harm innocent children. We’ll remedy this right away.”
But I was surprised by the degree of pushback toy companies offered in response to what WATCH had to say.
“Toys are tested for safety,” declared Adrienne Appell, a spokeswoman for the Toy Assn., an industry group. “These people are just trying to grandstand and frighten people.”
She told me that moms and dads are fully capable of deciding which toys are appropriate for their kids. They don’t need a bunch of overprotective consumer gadflies dictating what’s OK and what isn’t.
“Families should make the decision,” Appell said. “Are these toys unsafe? No.”
I asked if she’d be cool giving her 5-year-old daughter a set of Black Panther Slash Claws to play with (and possibly practice slashing moves on her 3-year-old brother).
“If she liked the movie, absolutely,” Appell replied.
I shared that exchange with Joan Siff, president of WATCH.
Her take: “As a parent, I wouldn’t want to hand that to a 5-year-old.”
Me neither. And you have to wonder how a toy like that makes it through the development process.
The pitch: “Yeah, it’s called the Black Panther Slash Claw, and it’s got these hard plastic claws that extend, like, 5 or 6 inches, and they could easily put out an eye or cause some nasty scrapes if, you know, a kid slashed another kid across the face, like in the movie.”
Hasbro: “Sounds good! Let’s produce thousands!”
Actually, the company stands behind the integrity of its product.
“Product safety is a top priority at Hasbro,” said Julie Duffy, a company spokeswoman. “Our products comply with all applicable global safety laws, regulations and standards, including those enforced by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.”
Yet my repeated requests to use a picture of the Black Panther Slash Claw from Hasbro’s website went ignored.
It’s almost as if the company wanted no part of my publicizing their very-safe toy.
Siff at WATCH noted that toy companies emphasize that their products are rigorously tested and comply with safety laws. However, there are safety-related toy recalls every year.
There were 28 toy recalls last year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The advocacy group Safe Kids Worldwide estimates those recalls involved more than 3.6 million units.
The CPSC says it knows of 13 toy-related deaths last year involving children 12 and under. Most involved choking or accidents on riding toys such as scooters.
There were an estimated 251,700 toy-related injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms last year, according to the commission.
Thirty-eight percent of those injuries involved “lacerations, contusions or abrasions.” Forty-four percent were to the head and face area.
“If toys are so safe,” Siff said, “how do you explain that?”
Appell at the Toy Assn. countered by saying WATCH doesn’t even perform tests of toys it places on its annual most-dangerous list.
“For a group to come out with a list like this without even doing tests, they’re just scaring people,” she said.
Siff replied that WATCH relies on experience, data and common sense.
“We go shopping and find toys the same way that consumers do,” she said. “We work with pediatricians and hospitals, we know about recalls and we have the experience to know what to look for.”
I see where both sides are coming from. As a parent, though, I think it’s better to have knowledgeable warnings than to not have warnings.
The toy industry is basically saying, “Trust us.” But the millions of toys recalled annually for safety reasons undercut that argument and should be a serious concern for all parents.
Or look at it like this: Hollywood probably isn’t happy about the annual “Razzie Awards” for bad movies, but that doesn’t make the nominated films any less awful.
How do we define a dangerous toy? In the absence of known deaths and injuries, I’d say it comes down to the porn test — you know it when you see it.
The Black Panther Slash Claw, to my mind, doesn’t pass that test.
Seriously, does anyone think there’s no possibility kids will be harmed by a toy featuring long plastic claws, especially when the name of the toy includes the word “slash”?
Presumably the legal departments of toy companies would have a stroke if manufacturers responded to a worst-toy list by saying, “Hey, good point, thanks.”
But if I was a toy maker, I wouldn’t hesitate to say at the very least, “Thanks very much for the constructive feedback.”
And I’d leave it at that.