A Hard Look At Helmets

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Thursday, December 9, 2010 - 4:41pm

Football helmet standards are under new scrutiny.

Football players are taught to hit hard from an early age and fans expect it, but the helmets designed to protect them may not be addressing one of the most dangerous injuries.

The NFL is now looking into the issue.

"What we're looking to do is not only improve the quality of what we're doing but make it safer for our players," says NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

From high school to the pros, helmet to helmet hits have raised new concerns over an often hidden injury.

"Concussions are on the rise in football," explains University of Michigan Assistant Professor of Neurology Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher. "Both the actual incident rate of concussions is going up and so is our increased awareness in letting us diagnose the injury more often."

Surprisingly, the helmets designed to protect players lack significant change over the past 30-years, and so do the standards to which they are tested.

Inside each helmet a sticker claims that NOCSAE, the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, has certified the safety of that helmet, but NOCSAE is funded by the manufacturers themselves with no outside oversight.

Dr. Kutcher helped write the NCAA's concussion policy.

"I don't think we can rely on the industry themselves," he says.

Helmet makers like Riddell and Schutt say they have made great strides in improving their protective features, including new air-filled padding and electronic monitoring of hits, but stand by the current NOCSAE standards.

NOCSAE says it's due to lack of hard science.

"If we make a change to our standard to address concussions without the scientific data we have no way to predict that the change is going to be effective," says NOCSAE's Mike Oliver.

Experts, including Dr. Kutcher, agree.

"It's great we're concentrating on helmets, we're concentrating on the safety aspects of the game, but we need to do more research," he says.

NOCSAE says it is working with researchers on the issue.

"We've spent almost two-and-a-half millions to underwriting research specifically related to concussions in all manners...how they are caused, how they are addressed in different sports," says Oliver.

It's research that will benefit all levels of football players.

"I think there needs to be something done to protect the kids that put these helmets on, and we're talking all the way down to the pee-wee kids," says high school athletic director Bailey Jackson.

The head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission says the government agency will begin working with NOCSAE next month to monitor and help accelerate their efforts to update current helmet safety standards.
 

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