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New football helmet add-ons stirring up controversy

Guardian Caps.

Guardian Caps

Controversy is rising this week over new helmet add-ons that major manufacturers have released to help further protect our young athletes during play.

The problem is they haven’t been tested yet, so many researchers and medical professionals are advising players and families to hold off on using these products.

Yet, people are outraged because they can’t understand why authorities would withhold a product that might help our children.

Today, I had the chance to visit WAKR and speak with host Ray Horner about both sides of this topic. We also discussed ways parents can help their children remain healthy during the busy preseason sports practices.

Below is an audio file and transcript of our discussion.

0:00

HORNER: Pros, college, high-school teams all practicing football and, of course, the soccer and the band and all that stuff are also practicing right now. Dr. Joe Congeni from Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital is in our studio, and you have some pictures and information on this new football helmet, what the Guardian Cap?

DR. CONGENI: You know, it’s not a new helmet, Ray, but [instead] it’s a shell or a cover that goes over the existing helmet — a soft shell — that has padding in it. It supposedly, unlike some other ones that have been there in the past, does allow the impact to slide off, according to the guy who makes it.

Last year, he broke into the market and sold 10,000 of those around the country. He’s trying to sell a lot more this year. It’s called the Guardian Cap.

There are so many products out there, though, trying to deal with concussion management, but the Guardian Cap got a little traction in the spring. A couple of schools used it in the spring: high schools and a few colleges.

Dr. Joe Congeni

Dr. Joe Congeni

This fall, the University of South Carolina is the best-known program, a Top 10 NCAA program, [whose players are] gonna be wearing the Guardian Cap.

So, obviously, you get the word out there and now there are all these pictures of USC and Jadeveon Clowney — the best lineman on the planet supposedly — wearing the Guardian Cap.

What happened was several high schools bought these, and this is where there’s some outrage that went on around the country.

In Colorado and Alabama and a few other places, the high schools bought them. The problem is they haven’t been tested yet. So, the outrage of some people are saying, “Why are we withholding something that might help kids? This may really reduce the risk of concussion and other issues. Get the Guardian Caps on people.”

The people from the medical side of things are saying, “These haven’t been tested yet. Not only do we not know if they help … is there a chance that it could hurt?”

The theory of the possibility that could lead to a problem is that the stickiness of adding the padding could actually lead to a neck injury.

If you have two or three kids who end up paralyzed from wearing this then we didn’t do ourselves very much good. So, nationally, they’re saying they have to wait to test this tool, but what a lot of other people are saying is hey, they’re withholding this tool, go ahead and wear ‘em anyway.  And we’re gonna see because a very well-known school, USC, the University of South Carolina, will be wearing them this year.

HORNER: Yeah, that’s the hesitancy there, when you get the fabric on fabric, and talk a little bit about what this Guardian Cap is made of, you do get that friction that could cause a little grab.

DR. CONGENI: That’s right. So, it has some pretty good padding in it. The latest is a very smooth plastic that slips off. But, there are people looking at several others, I could name ya five or six others.

red-black-guardian-cap

There’s a bullet proof vest-type material that people are using to try to soften the blow.

Again, remember what I told you, typically up until now, helmets prevent against skull fracture and brain bleed. They really don’t reduce that rotational mechanism that actually hurts the brain cells and leads to concussion.

So, [we don’t know] whether this, you know, two and a half inches of additional padding on the helmet really is going to make a difference. It’s going to reduce the straight-line impact, but not the rotational or whiplash mechanism we’ve talked about for so long.

So, we’re not sure. It’s worth testing, but you can’t just run out there when there are so many things on the market and every new one that comes up tell every kid in the country they should wear it.

The big issue is Colorado this week said they are not going to allow them in any high schools. Many teams had bought them already; parents had paid $50, $100, $150 for this equipment. So, that’s one side of the coin.

The other side that you and I have been talking about is the sensors in the helmet. They’ve been tested for three or four years in the helmet or mouth guards to measure the amount of g-forces, which are the energy of blows to the brain, right? So, we’ve got a little of this information back to see what it means. Now, some of the manufacturers have gone out and put it in their helmets this year.

So for instance, Reebok is telling us about a helmet that’s called the MC10, Riddell has the CheckLight version, which actually measures the amount of these g-forces in hits.

It has a red, green or yellow light. If the yellow light is on, it doesn’t mean the person has a concussion, but that they maybe should be checked. If a red light is on, it means they had a more significant impact and should be checked.

Oh my gosh, again, these haven’t been tested. In the years they’ve been studied at a couple of schools like the University of North Carolina, the problem was, Ray, a couple guys last year had concussions with 70 g-forces and other people had hits that were 120, 130 g-forces and it looked like there was no clinical affect at all. So, we don’t know what to make of this information.

We need more information and research to say what to do; otherwise we’re just putting more and more pressure on those trainers on the sidelines. What do you do when a kid runs over to the sideline and has his yellow light on in his new Riddell helmet? What are the medical teams supposed to do?

So nationally — because it hasn’t been studied yet — there’s also a ban on sensors in the helmet. And this caused a real furor this week: a ban on Guardian Caps or anything added to the helmet. In fact, they went so far as all the helmet makers had said it totally voids any of their protective clauses if you put anything on the helmet at all.

HORNER: Oh, okay. That’s a good point.

DR. CONGENI: So, the players, families and the people that bought these are saying it’s all a liability issue and the NCAA, high-school sports and the NFL are trying to get out of a liability issue. But, the issue is they’ve banned sensors for this year and they’ve banned any add-ons to the helmet like the Guardian Cap.

HORNER: There are also those that say this is all big business and they are waiting for Riddell to come out with a newer helmet, but is it that? Is this a money area as well or are we talking more safety and concern?

DR. CONGENI: Oh, I mean, I worry about it being a money area, too. For sure, when there are so many products. I just talked about maybe three here. My office is inundated. I’m not kidding you daily do I get things from people … with new patents and new products. Everybody’s trying to search for the Holy Grail.

I think there’s a part of it trying to help kids, for sure. No doubt about it. But, people don’t understand you can’t just come out and say, “Hey I’ve got a new product. Let’s use it Friday night.”

You can’t do that. There needs to be research and research takes years. The sensors are at least another year of study away. They just really are. We don’t know what to do with them.

HORNER: Joe, how do you get the research and the study without using the product?

DR. CONGENI: So, there’s the laboratory research first and then you have to follow that up with clinical research on the field. What they did is they looked at some of the sensor information at North Carolina last year, but they didn’t go to the trainers or the team doctors with that information because nobody knows exactly what to use it for. So, you’re exactly right. We need to see it both clinically on the field and we need to see it in the laboratory.

HORNER: Dr. Joe Congeni with us, Sports Medicine Center, Akron Children’s Hospital.

Joe, this is the time of year as well, a lot of kids, as we mentioned, out working real hard to get ready for the fall sports season. How about a little education for our parents out there?

Kids are coming home after a tough night of work, whether they’re a little dizzy from being dinged up or they’re dehydrated, what’s the best way for one, our parents to take care of these kids to get them ready for the next day’s practice and two, for them to be aware that maybe there is a concussion or something else looming?

DR. CONGENI: Well, there are a lot of issues to it. We did get a chance to talk about heat a little bit last week, but let’s start with the simple basics.

First, people are getting away from — I’m hearing it at camps even this year — pre and post weights. So, the No. 1 thing that is going to happen is dehydration — without question. I don’t care that it hasn’t been hot, in fact, I’m very happy that it hasn’t been hot. … This is the time of year I worry the most for all the kids in this area. But, it hasn’t been real hot, but still the pre and post weights are really important.

If a kid is sick at all, a kid has other issues and they are losing weight, you’re gonna see it if they are dehydrated. And so, in T-shirts and shorts, they should be weighed every day before and after a practice. You can tell very quickly if somebody’s lost 5 pounds, 8 pounds, 10 pounds, that’s water weight. That’s dehydration.

One of the biggest things is it’s hard to keep up in a six-hour day. You know these kids are practicing six-hour days: a three-hour practice, a one-hour break and a two-hour practice after that. That’s a pretty long day. So, they are getting dehydrated in some situations, and whether they are keeping up with their pre and post drinking, one really good way to find out is to weigh kids every day. That’s an important thing.

[Also], making sure that these kids — and they know it — get their sleep. They have to sleep a lot. At this time of year, get home, rest, eat, rehydrate and get a lot of sleep. Those are really some of the basic simple parts.

Now, when we get into some of the issues with heat, like confusion and dizziness and all that, that’s where we count on our athletic trainers to make an evaluation. That can be from heat illness, that can be from head injury, that can be from dehydration.

There are many things, and you hear me say it all the time, the best people out there [are the athletic trainers]. It’s like a MASH unit this time of year with 80 kids; the athletic trainers will do the assessing to see which of those things it is.

HORNER: Alright. Good visit, Joe. Thanks for coming on in and we’ll see you again next week.

DR. CONGENI: Okay, Ray. Looking forward to it. Thanks.

HORNER: Alright. Dr. Joe Congeni, Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital, joining us.

About Dr. Joe Congeni - Director of Sports Medicine

Dr. Joe Congeni is the Director, Sports Medicine; Clinical Co-Director, Center for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine at Akron Children's Hospital. For the past 25 years, Dr. Congeni has been the “go to” source for national and local media looking for information about pediatric sports medicine.