Posted: 10:21 am Friday, October 22nd, 2010

TIme for a change: Football helmet safety is judged by 1970s standards, report finds 

By Matt Porter

Highly recommended reading this morning if you’re a football parent, player or coach.

In what could change some of the false beliefs around the game of football, a study by The New York Times finds both football helmet safety standards and helmet safety oversight are not regulated and largely ineffective, and the standards by which helmets are judged have not changed despite a drastic increase in the knowledge surrounding concussions and head injuries.

Couple things stand out here:

* The standards by which helmets are judged are much the same as they were in 1973.
* Helmets are not — and never have been — formally tested to protect against concussions.
* Helmets must protect a player against the force that would fracture a skull, nothing less.
* The standards used to judge helmet safety were written by a group largely financed by helmet makers.
* The helmet industry receives no oversight from the government.

From The Times:

NORMAN, Okla. — Moments after her son finished practicing with his fifth-grade tackle football team, Beth Sparks examined his scuffed and battered helmet for what she admitted was the first time. She looked at the polycarbonate shell and felt the foam inside before noticing a small emblem on the back that read, “MEETS NOCSAE STANDARD.”

The one standard for helmets was written by a consortium largely financed by helmet makers.

“I would think that means it meets the national guidelines — you know, for head injuries, concussions, that sort of thing,” she said. “That’s what it would mean to me.”

That assumption, made by countless parents, coaches, administrators and even doctors involved with the 4.4 million children who play tackle football, is just one of many false beliefs in the largely unmonitored world of football helmets.

Helmets both new and used are not — and have never been — formally tested against the forces believed to cause concussions. The industry, which receives no governmental or other independent oversight, requires helmets for players of all ages to withstand only the extremely high-level force that would otherwise fracture skulls.

The standard has not changed meaningfully since it was written in 1973, despite rising concussion rates in youth football and the growing awareness of how the injury can cause significant short- and long-term problems with memory, depression and other cognitive functions, especially in children.

Moreover, used helmets worn by the vast majority of young players encountered stark lapses in the industry’s few safety procedures. Some of the businesses that recondition helmets ignored testing rules, performed the tests incorrectly or returned helmets that were still in poor condition. More than 100,000 children are wearing helmets too old to provide adequate protection — and perhaps half a million more are wearing potentially unsafe helmets that require critical examination, according to interviews with experts and industry data.

Read the rest of the story here, watch the video that accompanies the story on The Times’ website, and share your thoughts below. What needs to be done to improve concussion safety?

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