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Bill would strengthen youth helmet standards
March 16th, 2011
04:17 PM ET

Bill would strengthen youth helmet standards

Congressional leaders marked March 16, Brain Injury Awareness Day, by introducing legislation designed to protect young athletes from the dangers of sports-related head injuries.

The new bill, called the Children's Sports Athletic Equipment Safety Act, would make sure that new and reconditioned sports helmets for high school and younger players would meet higher safety standards.

"Helmet standards haven't been changed in 30 years," said U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-New Jersey, one of the co-sponsors of the legislation. "It is very important our students are protected with the best head gear possible."

The bill would also increase potential penalties for using misleading injury prevention claims to sell helmets and other sports equipment.

"I hope the private sector is with Congress on this one," noted Pascrell.

Although football helmets have clearly improved since the days of leather headgear, experts say they could be made safer, especially when it comes to preventing concussions. Sports are the second leading cause of traumatic brain injury for people who are 15 to 24 years old, just behind motor vehicle crashes. Every year athletes suffer up to an estimated 3.8 million sports related concussions in the United States.

U.S. Senator Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, the other co-sponsor of the bill, says it's time to make a change.   "100,000 helmets that are over a decade old, are being worn by our youth," said Udall. "New football helmets would have to be four times better (stronger) in order to protect against concussions. We need to make this change to protect our youth."

The NFL Players Association is among several organizations that have already endorsed the act.

"Not only is the NFLPA committed to the safety of professional football players, but to all who play the sport. We recognize a significant portion of those players are youth and high school athletes who are currently at risk for traumatic brain injury due to the absence of helmet safety standards." said the NFLPA's Executive Director DeMaurice Smith. "We commend (Congress) for addressing this issue."

"Brain injury it not something you recover from," Pascrell said.  "You live with it the rest of your life. Every concussion is a head injury. Read my lips: They are head injuries!  What are we doing to our kids? We need to protect them."


soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Jeff Fransen

    It seems counterintuitive to a Physicist, like myself, that helmets would have a solid outer shell. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if the helmets themselves create part of the problem. If you whack two solid objects against each other, they bounce off. The rapid change of direction might add to severity of the original blow.

    Imagine if there was a layer of gel instead of a shell. Two colliding helmets would slow each other down before coming to a stop instead of rebounding back in the other direction...Makes sense if you think about it...

    March 16, 2011 at 18:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Celeste

      I think you might have a point. Maybe something like quarter inch of silicon coating. With the right texture that stuff can have some decent shock-absorbing properties, and it seems pretty durable.

      March 17, 2011 at 01:13 | Report abuse |
  2. Dr Bill Toth

    Better helmets and better pads have helped increase the speed and force of collisions. Helmets are tested at lower speeds than typical high school collisions. How about playing without helmets and pads. Rugby I think it's called. And I'm fairly certain that the head injury frequency is lower in that sport. Any docs out there with stats? Live With Intention, DrBillToth.com/blog

    March 16, 2011 at 19:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Glenn

      Helmets are not tested at speeds lower than normal high school collisions. Helmets are frequently tested at speeds that would equate to a 20MPH car crash – with no car. Helmets were original designed to prevent frequently fatal injuries on the field like fractured skulls. Eliminating the helmets would cause the concussions to go down but you'd very likely have a dramatic increase in other (often fatal) head injuries. Improving one aspect of the game at the expense of another is not an appropriate reaction.

      And for those who believe that having soft padding on the outside of the shell is the answer – it's not. The helmet shells are hard (and, in fact, shaped the way they are) precisely SO they bounce and glance off each other. The longer time two objects are in contact with each other, the more force is transferred between them. By glancing off each other, hard-shelled helmets dramatically decrease the time they're in contact with each other. The reason Mark Kelso of the Bills was moderately successful was it because he had a soft-sided helmet (called the ProCap) that was going against hard-shelled helmets. When two soft-sided objects collide, they stick together for a dramatically longer time. Plus, the shearing, twisting and rotational forces caused by such helmets will likely lead to an increase of neck injuries while not effectively combating the concussion issues.

      March 29, 2011 at 18:07 | Report abuse |
  3. jr sand

    It took Nascar and other race venues a long time to realize a concrete wall was not the solution to faster and more powerful cars in preventing injuries. Has everyone forgotten there was a player on the 49ers that wore a double helmet for health reasons? As is now the NFL sanctions helmet contracts on the basis of preference not safety. Romo and Rodgers are not the only ones wearing a "cushioned" helmet not sanctioned by the "league. The "NFL" leads and others will probably follow. It all depends if the NFL will do that since they appear to be more concerned with contracts than health. Schools will use what the pros use and I totally agree with Jeff Fransen's analysis.

    March 16, 2011 at 22:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Mark Picot

    The bill also suggests an oversight of mouth guard marketing and those companies that misrepresent what their product is capable of achieving. Basically no common mouth guard has ever shown consistent results in any concussion research. Only an orthotic device that balances the jaw joints prior to the construction of the appliance has shown promise,These medically fit retainer like mouthpieces have shown great results and has been published in a major medical journal. go to http://www.mahercor.com to read the data of the study that was peer reviewed by a Harvard MGH specialist.

    March 17, 2011 at 00:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Granite Sentry

    Didn't America used to be known as the home of the brave? With the best of intentions, we've let the nannies turn us into the nation of the timid. How long before we let the one accident in 10,000 convince us that even croquet players should wear body armor and full coverage helmets? Let them play. http://www.granitesentry.com

    March 17, 2011 at 04:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Steve

    The NFL wants us all to focus on the "big hits" and diagnosed concussions. In fact, the real problem is the smaller, frequent, hits that do not lead to a concussion and frankly draw no attention from the athlete or medical professionals. See the study by Purdue on the high school team in Indiana. The kids that got brain damage went through the entire season with no problems. The damage is only found after testing. This means a large percentage of every team is affected without any symptoms that can be noticed without testing.

    March 17, 2011 at 11:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. BRBSanDiego

    Yeah, so the helmets could be better – a pop top can could be better too. What the fkkkkk is congress doing in on this pressing issue? Don't we have bigger problems like poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, racism, drugs, borders, wars, etc. that congress could be working on? I really don't care if a bunch of throwback cro-magnum types want to bruise their brains by slamming into each other. Get the justice system in on this problem by fining the parents for child abuse and the coaches for reckless endangerment – or just forget the whole deal and call it natural selection.

    March 17, 2011 at 12:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Robert

    I just bought one of those Sobakawa pillows, yeah I fell for a late night TV add. But the material does have quite good energy absorbtion. Might be good in helmet

    March 18, 2011 at 11:04 | Report abuse | Reply
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  13. Khadijah Coniglio

    The vents are a very important feature of a helmet, as it allows airflow through the helmet. A good rule of thumb is that a helmet should allow at least ten ventilation slots. The larger the number of vents, the better the airflow and the more comfortable the helmet.

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