Football helmets with higher concussion risk used by area high s - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Football helmets with higher concussion risk used by area high schools

Dr. Tad Seifert (Source: WAVE 3 News) Dr. Tad Seifert (Source: WAVE 3 News)
JCPS spokesman Ben Jackey (Source: WAVE 3 News) JCPS spokesman Ben Jackey (Source: WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - This fall thousands of area student athletes will take the field on the opening weekend of Friday night football. With each new season, there is growing concern about what some call an epidemic in the sport: concussions.

Are local schools are giving your kids the best helmets to protect against concussions? According to one widely accepted ratings system, in some cases, the answer is no.

Football is our country's most popular, and some believe, most violent sport.

[LIST: High school football helmet safety ratings]

Director of the Sports and Concussion Program at Norton Healthcare Dr. Tad Seifert says concussions are as big a concern for high school athletes as they are for college and pro athletes.

"Absolutely," Seifert said. "I would say probably even more."

Seifert thinks the type of helmet kids wear plays a role in their risk of concussion. That belief is rooted in years of research at Virginia Tech University that resulted in a Five-Star Helmet Safety Ratings System. The higher the rating the lower the concussion risk.

[VIEW: JCPS football helmet inventory]

Dr. Stefan Duma is the researcher behind that ratings system.

"The reality is the newer helmets have better energy absorbing material, and lower head acceleration, and that lowers risk," Duma said. "And the difference between a one star and a four and five stars is dramatic. It can cut your head acceleration in half."

Duma believes any helmets that fall below his three star rating shouldn't be used anymore because they don't provide enough protection against concussions. That includes the two star rated Schutt Air Advantage and one star rated Riddell VSR4.

[VIEW: Riddell Response to WAVE 3 TV News]

A WAVE 3 News Troubleshooter analysis of helmet inventories from eight area school districts revealed: four of them still use one, or both of those model helmets. In JCPS, 26 percent, or 1 in 4, of the helmets they own are rated one and two stars in the Virginia Tech system.

"What this does is, it shows that there is a conversation that needs to be had," said JCPS spokesman Ben Jackey. "And it's going to be had."

Right now JCPS is following the recommendations of the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, or NOCSAE.

[VIEW: VA Tech Helmet Safety Ratings System]

NOCSAE is a national group that certifies football helmets and it doesn't think the research at Virginia Tech tells the whole story because they didn't test for all the variables.

"When it comes to concussions, the things that are more likely to result in a concussion are things that aren't related to how the helmet performs," said NOCSAE Executive Director Mike Oliver.

In fact, most experts agree proper fit and tackling technique are far more important to preventing concussions.

[VIEW: Schutt response to helmet ratings]

In August, the American Journal of Sports Medicine published a University of Wisconsin study that found no difference concussion rates by helmet brand.

"There's a lot of smoke with regards to concussions and head injuries, especially in football," said Dr. Tim McGuine, UW sports medicine researcher and co-author of the study. "And I think the hype, the media hype has far outrun the scientific evidence."

[VIEW: NOCSAE statement on VA Tech Helmet Ratings]

Still, after WAVE 3 News told JCPS what Dr. Seifert said, Jackey said the district decided to organize a meeting to sort it all out. Seifert is also an adviser to JCPS.

"We need to get with the athletic directors, and get with our expert from Norton, and get them together and talk about what the research shows," Jackey said. "How they should move going forward and what's best for kids."

Some school districts say the answer is clear. Floyd County responded to our report by immediately taking all of its lower rated helmets out of service. Bullitt County says their low rated helmets will be phased out by the end of the year and replaced by the four star and five star helmets, adding "the study makes a compelling point which we have taken into account."

[VIEW: University of Wisconsin Helmet Concussion Study in American Journal of Sports Medicine]

Dr. Seifert said it's a complex debate with many different points to consider. But in the end, he would not put his own child in a one or two star rated helmet.

College teams, including UofL, have already taken these lower rated helmets out of service. And Riddell actually urged NFL players to change to one of its higher rated models after the rankings first came out in 2011.

Director of Marketing Communications for Schutt Sports Glenn Beckmann thinks Duma and his research team might be jumping the gun.

"We have concerns and questions about the methodology, the science and conclusions behind the Virginia Tech ratings system,” he said.

But Beckmann said so many school districts around the country use those helmet safety ratings, earlier this year Schutt came out with not one, but two, five star rated helmets. Beckmann said many districts wouldn't allow them to bid on equipment contracts, without them.

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