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Equipment Group Issues Warning To Athletes and Parents about Concussion Claims

Be wary of claims that product will reduce concussion risk, says NOCSAE

The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) is warning athletes and their parents of the need to thoroughly understand the extent of protection provided by - or not provided by - athletic equipment worn while playing sports. Football helmet lying on grass

NOCSAE's warning comes in the wake of claims by several companies that their products - such as head bands, supplements or mouth guards - actually reduce the incidence of concussion, and was made at the beginning of the group's summer meeting in Kansas City.

"Parents, athletes and coaches are becoming more informed about concussions, and this increased awareness is vitally important to advancing athlete safety. But it also creates a demand for quick solutions. Unfortunately, there are quick solutions offered for sale which have neither scientific nor medical support that validate their claims to prevent or reduce concussions," said Mike Oliver, NOCSAE executive director.

"Any device or supplement promoted as being able to prevent, diagnose or cure a concussion must be supported by scientific data and peer-reviewed research. Currently, there is no definitive scientific research linking mouth guards, head bands, supplements or other specialty products to a reduction in concussion risk or severity. For companies to suggest otherwise misleads athletes, parents and coaches into a dangerous false sense of protection against concussion. NOCSAE warns athletes and parents of athletes to get the facts about sports equipment and concussion protection and not rely solely on marketing and promotional materials when making equipment decisions."

No NOCSAE concussion standards

NOCSAE is an independent organization with the dual purpose of setting standards for the performance of athletic equipment and funding research necessary to advance the science of sports. Through NOCSAE's independent process, physicians, academic researchers, coaches, trainers and manufacturers come together to establish standards based on accepted science and reliable data.

While protective equipment certified to the NOCSAE standard play an incredibly important role in protecting athletes on the field of play, they should not be the primary approach to protecting against concussion, says NOCSAE.  Learning to avoid unnecessary head impacts (e.g. proper tackling), honest self-reporting of concussion symptoms to a coach or parent, and following trained medical management decisions about when a concussed athlete can return to play are far more likely to prevent a concussion or reduce the chance of chronic problems that may be related to untreated concussions.

Football helmet makers support NOCSAE

Asked to comment on the NOCSAE statement, three of the four leading manufacturers of football helmets (Riddell, Rawlings and Schutt)*, responded with the statements supporting NOCSAE but also encouraging parents and players to consider the Virginia Tech STAR helmet ratings in deciding which helmet to purchase:

Riddell: Erin Griffin, Media Relations Manager at Riddell, said, "Riddell supports the efforts of NOCSAE as an independent standards committee and its view that parents and players should consider multiple data points when choosing a football helmet. Just as we evaluate our football helmets across many different metrics, parents, coaches and players should also consider many different factors when choosing a helmet. 

The Virginia Tech STAR rating system is one such data point that should be taken into consideration. Riddell is proud to be the only football helmet manufacturer with two helmets to have received the highest possible, 5-STAR ranking in the latest Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings. We commend the Virginia Tech researchers for the progress they have made advancing this important issue.

Riddell welcomes and supports scientific-based updates that improve helmet standards. Our top priority is athlete protection. We are deeply involved not just with NOCSAE, but also with other standards-making bodies like ASTM International to explore setting and improving helmet standards. We value our leadership position and will continue our commitment to the athlete and our support of scientific research to advance athlete protection."

Rawlings: Paul Jonff, Brand Manager, Rawlings Sporting Goods, said, "We understand that no helmet or product can prevent concussions. We support NOCSAE and other educational studies including the Virginia Tech STAR Ratings. NOCSAE has a long history of establishing performance standards for athletic equipment. The STAR ratings provide consumers with more information, allowing them to make a more educated buying decision.

Schutt: Glenn Beckman, Director of Marketing Communications for Schutt Sports, said in a statement to MomsTEAM, "We're encouraged that NOCSAE is taking this aggressive stance against unproven claims of concussion reduction and/or prevention, as well the aggressive stance they've taken against unproven scientific studies that claim to rate football helmets in their performance against concussions.

These academic studies and products try to take a very complex biological problem and oversimplify it in order to satisfy the desire for 'quick solutions.' These claims often use questionable science and can lead consumers to improper impressions and a false sense of security. In fact, it has been the position of Schutt Sports that no company, organization or academic study can truthfully claim that any helmet can directly and significantly reduce even the risk of concussion. And it's encouraging to see that our position is backed up by the people that are setting the national standards for sporting goods and athletic equipment. Moving forward faster at the expense of better is not progress.

We're also encouraged about efforts by grass-roots organizations like MomsTEAM.com, who are helping immensely in the fight against concussions and MTBIs. They're absolutely correct in their assertion that helmets and equipment are not going to be the solution to the concussion epidemic. Technology will only take us so far. Helmets will be a part of the overall solution, which must include rules enforcement/change, culture change in the sport, emphasis on proper tackling technique, continued advancements in the medical and scientific communities, increased focus and continuing education on the identification and diagnosis of concussions, as well as medically prepared and properly supervised return-to-play action plans and much more."

Protection claims vary

What the football helmet manufacturers say about their products on their websites in terms of concussion protection varies, and while none directly claim that their helmet reduces concussion risk, the language used by one could be viewed as coming perilously close to, if not crossing the line into asserting that a helmet reduces the risk of concussion:

  • Riddell says its helmets include design elements intended to "disperse the force of impact ... for concussion protection," "manage the types of impact that cause concussion," and such elements are "focused on the intent of reducing the risk of concussion."  While Riddell prominently displays on its website the standard disclaimer that "no helmet can prevent serious head or neck injuries a player might receive while participating in football,"  it also touts in a YouTube video for its Revolution Speed football helmet  "Riddell Concussion Reduction Technology," the clear implication of which is suggests that the technology in its helmet reduces the risk of concussion.  
  • Schutt states that each of its helmets "exceeds the NOCSAE standard for football and is designed with the intent to reduce the risk of concussion," but stops well short of claiming an actual reduction in concussion risk.
  • Xenith says its helmets are "designed to minimize the risk of injury" and "offer outstanding protection against hits of all energy levels", but at the end of a video on its site, the company's founder, Vin Ferrara, clearly asserts that "wearing a better helmet is a strategy for preventing concussions."  (emphasis supplied). 
  • Rawlings says only that its helmets "answer protective needs and exceed performance expectations" and utilize "protective, custom-fit cushioning technology in high-impact areas."
* Editor's Note: A request to Xenith  to comment on the NOCSAE statement remains outstanding as of the most recent update of this article (June 24, 2012). This article will be updated when, and if, a statement is received by MomsTEAM from Xenith.

Sources include NOCAE via PR Newswire.

Posted June 21, 2012; most recently revised June 24, 2012