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Thompson: Helmet Study Should Evoke Change

By Brad Thompson--

CHICAGO (WSCR) On Tuesday, researchers at Virginia Tech University released the results of a study that determined the safety ratings of helmets worn by NFL players. The results were shocking. The study concluded that the Riddell VSR-4 helmet, which was worn by 38 percent of NFL players last season, was the second-lowest rated helmet out of the 10 helmets in the study.

It shouldn't be shocking that the VSR-4 helmet received a low rating. Heck, Riddell stopped making this model in 2010, even though it was one of the most popular helmets in the NFL. What's shocking is that so many NFL players still wear it.

In an era when concussion prevention is at an all-time high, why aren't most, if not all, of the players wearing helmets with the highest safety ratings? Maybe players haven't been properly educated about helmet technology and what makes one helmet safer than another. Or maybe some players choose to disregard the safety information and go strictly with comfort or what they've always worn. No matter what the reasons for wearing older models, more players need to strap on one of the safer models next season.

Football is a violent game. The violence is part of what makes it so entertaining. I firmly believe the game can be made safer, but it'll never be completely safe or without risks. I enjoy watching NFL football as much as the next fan and I don't want to see the game change. Things can be done to make it safer so our Sunday gladiators aren't injured for life from playing in the NFL. Making all players wear new high-tech helmets is a step in the right direction and this study should help with that.

Stefan Duma, Virginia Tech's lead biomedical engineer on the project, said this study is the culmination of eight years of research. This study isn't the be all and end all on helmet research, but it's the most elaborate study to date. The NFL's Head, Neck and Spine Medical Committee will review Virginia Tech's research. Hopefully this committee determines this study to be credible and changes are made because of it. No study is perfect, but the methodology of this study has been peer reviewed and accepted for publication by the Annals of Biomedical Engineering.

Assuming the NFL ever plays games again, it will be interesting to see how this study impacts player's decisions. Will players switch to the newer, safer-rated helmets? Should coaches, management and trainers make it mandatory for their high-paid commodities to wear helmets with the highest safety ratings?

Although Riddell has had a licensing/sponsorship agreement with the NFL since 1990, each player is allowed to choose which brand and model of helmet he wears. If you're the Bears' General Manager Jerry Angelo or Coach Lovie Smith don't you want to make sure that Jay Cutler and other superstars are protecting their head as much as possible by wearing helmets with the highest safety ratings?

Last year, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers suffered two concussions during the regular season. Then Rodgers took a brutal shot to the head from Julius Peppers in the NFC Championship Game. Rodgers appeared shaken initially, but said he didn't have concussion symptoms. After the game he said he was wearing a new high-tech helmet and that it prevented him from being concussed again. He went on to say that even though he was still getting used to the new helmet, because it was uncomfortable, he was glad to be wearing it when Peppers hit him.

As hefty fines were issued by the league and the lasting effects of head injuries became more apparent than ever during the 2010 season, players league-wide continue to say that they were fully aware of the risks of playing football. If they realize the lifelong effects of concussions and head injuries, then why are so many still wearing the older model helmets? It could be that the 38 percent of players wearing the VSR-4 model helmets play a position that isn't as susceptible to head injuries, such as kickers or offensive lineman, but if you're on a football field, you should protect your brain as much as possible.

Let's hope that this study leads to players wearing helmets with the highest safety ratings – for their sake and ours, as fans. Let's hope that his study leads to more tests and research on head injuries, concussions and helmet technology. Let's hope this study not only impacts the decisions professional players make, but also has a trickle down effect on colleges, high schools and all levels of organized football.

If we want football to continue as the sport that millions of Americans know and love, then it's time for players to put on their thinking caps and wear safer helmets.

Do you agree with Brad? Post your comments below.

Jeff Pearl
Brad Thompson

Brad M. Thompson, a former college football player and coach, made his return to the Midwest in 2009 after fighting wildfires out West. He earned his master's degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and covers the Big Ten Conference and Chicago sports. Follow him on Twitter at @Brad_M_Thompson. Find more of Brad's blogs here.


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