Study finds higher cost of football helmets doesn’t improve safety performance

DENVER — Buying a football helmet can be difficult. Many manufacturers tout different technology, prices and safety ratings. But a study found there isn’t much difference when the helmets are actually in use on the field.

As a father, coach and executive vice president of the Colorado Youth Football League, Rob Sandlin knows that no helmet is concussion-proof.

“We encourage our parents to purchase the helmet that they can afford best,” Sandlin said.

But with lab testing and ratings systems being used to rank and sell the latest models, Sandlin admits parents sometimes make difficult decisions in the name of safety.

“Parents will (sometimes) eliminate the child from playing because they say, ‘I can’t afford the helmet that he should have,’” Sandlin said.

After six years of working with several schools to study the make, model and age of every helmet being used by players on the field, a professor at CU Anschutz made an interesting discovery.

“Whether they were expensive helmets or less expensive helmets, whether they were high rated helmets, five-star helmets versus one-star helmets, they performed similarly when kids were actually playing football,” said Dawn Comstock, an associate professor at the Colorado School for Public Health.

Comstock said the same holds true for used helmets as long as they were reconditioned within one year.

“Athletes who sustained concussions wearing older helmets that had not been reconditioned had concussion symptoms that lasted longer,” Comstock said. “So the concussions were a bit more severe.”

“Our organization tries to recondition helmets after a 12-month period,” Sandlin said.

Sandlin and Comstock agree that parents should feel comfortable asking coaches about helmet reconditioning. Sandlin said they should also ask their coaches if they teach proper fitting and tackling techniques, such as Heads Up Football.

“We have seen a reduction, in our organization, in concussions (with Heads Up Football) so I know that it works,” Sandlin said. “I know that as long as the parents are maintaining the helmet properly and the coaches are following up with that, that we’re going to see the benefits we should have.”

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