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New NFL Criticism-This time it's concussions and football helmets

The National Football League again faces renewed criticism in its treatment of brain injuries.  This time critics are casting suspicions on the league’s committee on concussions and the drafting of new helmet safety standards.  According to the New York Times, many say the committee is engaging in junk science, using incomplete date and proceeding despite major conflicts of interest with helmet manufacturers.   If this wasn’t so serious, it would be comical, but player’s lives are at stake.

It comes as no surprise when we also learn that the committee drafting these new helmet standards is being led by the same physician who has no real credentials when it comes to head injuries.  He is not a neurologist and has received no special training in bio mechanics, yet he has apparently been given a free hand again by the NFL!

The Times article quotes a leading concussion expert, Dr. Robert Cantu who is also vice president for the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment as says, “This is not going to give you data you want with regard to concussion.- The way in which this study is set up, it won’t answer the question in any meaningful way.

Other critics have charged that “making (the league data)  public would give a false impression that one helmet is better than another in protecting against concussions. That would be very bad.”

One helmet manufacturer has charged that, “They are testing only for extreme circumstances that have very little to do with concussion — and they’re ignoring the lower levels that might have a lot to do with the cognitive problems we’re now seeing in retired players,” “It’s the wrong approach for the wrong time.”

From my experience with concussions, it would seem that no helmet can adequately protect the brain from the forward-backward and rotational forces of the brain within the skull.  Helmets may provide protection from skull fractures and direct impact forces, but not the forces that are primarily responsible for concussions.

To give players, parents and coaches the wrong impression about the protection that a helmet can provide against concussions is a bad idea.  More effort should be spent on educating players and all those involved in youth sports on the dangers of concussions, how to recognize when a concussion has taken place and to keep those with a concussion or a suspected concussion from returning to play prematurely.

You can read the full Times story by clicking here.



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Gordon Johnson

Great blog Michael. You are so right about the false security that a helmut brings.

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