OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Football helmets’ ability to protect against concussions has become “exaggerated,” according to a national safety committee.
After extensive study of various models of helmets, the results released this week are that no helmet is effective at stopping concussions and that all helmet brands have similar occurrences of brain bruising.
The N.C. High School Athletic Association released a report from the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE), an independent and nonprofit standard-setting body formed in 1969.
The NOCSAE says its sole mission is to enhance athletic safety through scientific research and the creation of performance standards for protective equipment.
In 2011, Virginia Tech University announced that it had made ratings of the then-current helmet models. The research included analysis of more than 2 million head impacts recorded directly from high school and collegiate football players using helmet-mounted sensors. These data were used to create lab testing conditions representative of all the impacts players experience on the field.
Virginia Tech devised 120 different impact tests that could be used to test helmets through its STAR rating system (Summation of Tests for the Analysis of Risk).
At the time of the initial test results, only one helmet on the market received the highest marks, a 5-star rating.
Two months ago, Virginia Tech announced that five new helmets on the market all received 5-star ratings. That was one helmet from Rawlings and two each from Schutt Sports and Xenith.
“The STAR ratings are not standards — they are a theoretical method of comparing one helmet against another,” warned Mike Oliver, NOCSAE executive director.
“The Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings system approaches the very broad and complex issue of concussion protection from a narrow vantage point of linear accelerations only and does not address other biomechanical variables such as rotational accelerations,” said Oliver. “Scientific experts agree that rotational accelerations are involved in most concussive events, but there is still no agreement on what level of rotational force can be considered safe or dangerous for athletes.”
“This is remarkable progress for helmet safety in football,” Steven Rowson, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Virginia Tech. Not only are consumers using the ratings to purchase helmets, but manufacturers are using our rating system to design new helmets to achieve five stars.”
Still, the NOCSAE says scientific evidence does not support the claim that a particular helmet brand or model is more effective in reducing the occurrence of concussive events.
“Helmets which meet the NOCSAE standard are extremely effective at doing what they are designed to do, limiting linear accelerations that result from impacts to the head and helmet,” said Oliver.
“Unfortunately many have misunderstood the purpose and limitations of the STAR ratings,” he said. “A 5-STAR rating does not mean that the helmet is great at preventing concussions. It simply means that it might be better than another helmet with a lower rating.
“Because of this misunderstanding, the effectiveness of helmets in protecting against concussions has become exaggerated, taking focus away from steps known to have a more immediate and much greater effect on concussion reduction.”
According to the CDC Foundation’s Heads Up to Parents program, some of the best ways to lower the risk of injury are to make sure the helmet is a proper fit and that coaches teach proper blocking and tackling techniques so that players don’t lead with their heads. Tougher rules and enforcement to punish players for leading with the helmet might also reduce the risk.
Last summer, East Surry head coach David Diamont and some of his players led a youth camp where tackling form was emphasized.
“You’ve got to see what you hit,” then-senior Christian Shinault told the boys. Not only does it protect the neck and head, but keeping the eyes up help ensure the tackle gets made. Guys that drop their heads can miss the ball carrier altogether.
Last month, Forsyth County Schools held a football safety seminar at Reagan High for coaches, trainers and athletic directors.
FCS athletic director Stan Elrod said his school system was only the second in the state to host such a training clinic.
The seminar addressed issues such as heads-up tackling, proper equipment fit and hydration to prevent heat stroke.
The Winston-Salem event was sponsored by the Matthew Gfeller Foundation, which was founded by Gfeller family after Matthew died from a helmet-to-helmet collision in 2008 while playing for Reynolds.