National Consumers League

How safe is your football helmet? Study finds troubling answers


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Football is an inherently rough sport, with takedowns, pile-ups, and tackles all in the name of the game. That’s why football players are required to wear protective gear such as shoulder pads, helmets, and mouth guards. But how do we know if the required equipment does a good enough job of protecting a player’s body from injury? That’s a question a new Virginia Tech study sought to answer when it used more than a decade’s worth of data of more than a million head impacts at Virginia Tech football games and practices, in order analyze to analyze 10 commonly used helmet models. The results were distressing—two models popular among teenagers allow high rates of concussions. The Riddell VSR-4, a discontinued model still worn by about 75,000 high school and college players, and the Adams A2000, were the lowest-ranked models and carried the highest risk of concussions. Virginia Tech is using the results of the study to create a National Impact Database, that, for the first time, will allow consumers, coaches, and players to go to a website and see which helmets offer the most protection against head injury. The alarmingly poor performance of several common helmet models is only further proof of the need to pass the Child Sports Athletic Equipment Safety Act. The bill, which NCL strongly supports, would require football helmet manufacturers to develop a voluntary safety standard that address concussion risk and the needs of youth players. The standards would be reviewed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which could issue mandatory safety rules if the voluntary standards are too lenient. The legislation also has a provision that would require independent third party testing and certification of adult football helmets if the voluntary standards prove insufficient. The rough and tumble nature of football puts players of all levels—from the junior league novice to the NFL superstar—at risk of a developing a concussion and players who sustain multiple hits can suffer long-term brain injury. There is simply no excuse for risking the safety of teen players, many of whom use the sport as a pathway to higher education and scholarships, when there is a fix as simple as a well-designed helmet.