Your children are playing sports: Is their safety equipment protecting them?
By Dean I Weitzman, Esq. on October 25th, 2010
Serious injuries, including concussions, have been occurring more and more lately in football games from the pros to colleges to youth football leagues across the U.S.
A junior at Rutgers suffered a spinal cord injury during a football game on Oct. 16, rendering him paralyzed from the neck down.
Concussions during NFL football games have been happening at a brisk pace in recent weeks, as hard hits have led to serious injuries on the field involving receiver DeSean Jackson of the Philadelphia Eagles, cornerback Dunta Robinson of the Atlanta Falcons, and receivers Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi of the Cleveland Browns. All were knocked out of recent games due to powerful hits to their heads and helmets.
The problem has been getting so serious that the NFL quickly enacted new rules to fight the helmet-to-helmet hits. The NFL will now be dishing out fines and suspensions to players who cause head injuries to other players during games.
And amid all of these injuries, a story in The New York Times last week reported that as head injuries continue to rise during team sports competitions, safety standards for football helmets used by youth teams haven’t been substantially upgraded or modified since 1973.
Amazingly, according to the story, the helmets used by youth football players are not subject to a rigorous testing regimen.
“Helmets both new and used are not — and have never been — formally tested against the forces believed to cause concussions,” according to the New York Times story. “The industry, which receives no governmental or other independent oversight, requires helmets for players of all ages to withstand only the extremely high-level force that would otherwise fracture skulls.”
In automobile racing and motorcycle riding, safety helmets that are involved in crashes are replaced after serious accidents because their internal protective foam is crushed and destroyed as it protects the operator. That’s what motor vehicle safety helmets are supposed to do – protect the head and be used up in the process, essentially giving up their working lives to protect the driver or rider.
Football helmets, and those used on other team sports, aren’t replaced after every serious bone-crushing hit. They are worn again and again, continuing to take a pounding on the head of a player.
Today, that approach is getting a new look from a variety of sources, from sports leagues to medical professionals to educators and others, as more research is being done to see if changes are needed to protect student athletes.
Young football players in high school and lower grades are also getting hurt from head injuries such as concussions and traumatic brain injuries due to hits to the head.
These kinds of injuries have a cumulative effect on the human body, eventually causing brain injuries that last a lifetime. The injuries can cause memory loss, learning disabilities and other problems.
So as a parent, what can you do to better protect your children as they compete in team sports including football and other contact sports?
First, you can carefully inspect the safety equipment that they are using and try to ensure that it is in good condition, with all of its parts and padding in place.
You need to be your child’s biggest advocate on the playing field so that they are wearing the best possible gear to protect them.
Talk to the coaches, school officials and league officials to be sure that they have the safety of the players in their sights while the games are being played.
In the New York Times story, a mother of a fifth-grade football player in Norman, Oklahoma, was interviewed about what she knew about the football helmet that her son used in his games. Inside, she eyed a sticker that said, “MEETS NOCSAE STANDARD,” for safety.
“I would think that means it meets the national guidelines — you know, for head injuries, concussions, that sort of thing,” the mother told the Times. “That’s what it would mean to me.”
The problem, according to the story, is that such confidence is often misplaced.
“That assumption, made by countless parents, coaches, administrators and even doctors involved with the 4.4 million children who play tackle football, is just one of many false beliefs in the largely unmonitored world of football helmets,” the story said. “More than 100,000 children are wearing helmets too old to provide adequate protection — and perhaps half a million more are wearing potentially unsafe helmets that require critical examination, according to interviews with experts and industry data.”
New helmet testing standards and procedures are needed, as well as new materials and replacement policies so that young athletes aren’t wearing helmets that can lead to injuries that could have easily been prevented.
Today, the football helmet safety standards for youth helmets come from the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE), a non-profit group that was formed in 1969 to create performance and safety standards for football helmets. The group is made up of representatives from the American College Health Association, American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, Athletic Equipment Managers’ Association, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Athletic Equipment Reconditioners’ Association, National Athletic Trainers Association, American College of Sports Medicine, Sporting Goods Manufacturers’ Association, and the College Football Association.
Some critics argue that not enough is being done to ensure that youth football helmets improve to keep up with larger and stronger youth athletes, and that NOCSAE is too close to some of the sports equipment makers that are building the helmets themselves.
NOCSAE is apparently hearing that message, too.
Last weekend, NOCSAE gathered together some of its members, officials and other experts together in meetings to talk about whether changes should be made to existing helmet testing standards, according to The New York Times.
“An estimated 100,000 concussions are reported each season among high school players, according to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio,” the story reported. “Several times that figure are believed to go unreported or unrecognized, and given that most tackle football players are under the age of 14, the annual count of football concussions could approach one million.”
The NOCSAE review is a welcome development.
In the meantime, there’s lots of information out there for parents to use to better protect their children.
The U.S Centers for Disease Control offers important information for parents to know about concussions and other head injuries suffered by youth athletes.
“A concussion is a brain injury and all are serious,” the CDC reports. “Most concussions occur without loss of consciousness. Recognition and proper response to concussions when they first occur can help prevent further injury or even death.”
The CDC also offers information for coaches and sports teams to become more aware of concussions and head injuries so they can be prevented. Be sure that your kid’s coaches see this information.
As parents, we need to more closely monitor the athletic programs that our children are playing in so that we can be sure they are participating in the safest manner possible.
We need to ask more questions about the safety equipment they are using, particularly in contact sports such as football where helmets are a key piece of protective gear.
If standards for such helmets are outdated, then they need to be updated – and soon.
If a team’s helmets are old and worn out, then they need to be replaced and better monitored in the future to ensure their safety for the children who have to wear them. Regularly-scheduled helmet replacement programs may be the thing of the future, as well as vastly improved helmets with better shells, padding and retention strap systems.
Student athletes who are seriously injured playing games they love like football must be better protected.
As parents, we all need to take a stand and work hard to demand improvements so our children are safer playing the games they love.
And of course, if your child is seriously hurt due to an athletic injury caused by defective or outdated safety equipment or other conditions, MyPhillyLawyer is here to help you and your family.
Our children deserve more than they are getting from existing safety equipment standards.
Let’s make sure that they get it.