NFL Helmet and Concussion Safety Given New Light by Virginia Tech Researchers

Caleb GarlingCorrespondent IMay 10, 2011

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 23:  LaMarr Woodley #56 of the Pittsburgh Steelers tackles LaDainian Tomlinson #21 of the New York Jets during the 2011 AFC Championship game at Heinz Field on January 23, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Steelers won 24-19. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

A recent study at Virginia Tech has shown that according to their tests, nearly 40 percent of NFL players were using one of the most unsafe helmets on the market last season. The Riddell VSR-4, a recently discontinued model, also worn by nearly 75,000 college and high school players, was given the second lowest rating on the research team’s safety testing.

Using a methodology dryly named The Summation of Tests for the Analysis of Risk (STAR) involving impact location, acceleration and drop height, the team examined 10 different helmets to project the likelihood of concussion.

Professor of biomedical engineering Stefan Duma noted, "We're basing this analysis off a million impacts we've collected. We know how players are hit. It's much more elaborate than anyone's ever looked at, in terms of evaluating the performance of helmets."

The STAR rating represents the incidence of concussion likely over playing one season of football. The lower the rating the better; for example STAR rating of 0.5 means there is a 50 percent chance one would receive a concussion using that helmet over the course of a season.

Here were the results:

Helmet Brand and Model STAR Rating Price
Riddell Revolution Speed 0.297 $234.99
Schutt ION 4D 0.351 $259.95
Schutt DNA Pro + 0.352 $169.95
Xenith X1 0.356 $299.99
Riddell Revolution 0.362 $182.99
Riddell Revolution IQ 0.369 $222.99
Schutt Air XP 0.434 $179.95
Schutt Air Advantage 0.678 $159.99
Riddell VSR4 0.791 N/A
Adams A2000 Pro Elite 1.700 199.95

According to the New York Times, the only major oversight on helmet safety today measures potential skull fracture, not concussions, and is performed by the volunteer group, National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment.

Also in the article, Xenith’s chief executive, Vin Ferrara remarked, “I’m unmoved by this information, and I would say that no matter how our helmet was ranked. We find this type of ranking concept to be detrimental to consumer understanding and detrimental to the development of superior helmets.”

It was unclear why an independent research team looking at helmet safety was detrimental to the consumer.

In the NFL, Players choose what helmet they use each season. The league told the AP in November that it estimated that 75 percent of helmets used in 2010 were made by Riddell, which has had a licensing/sponsorship agreement with the league since 1990. The league said 23 percent were made by Schutt, 1 to 2 percent by Xenith, and a handful by Adams USA.

Hopefully these data and tests pave the way for better future decisions by both the NFL, as well as high schools and colleges across the country.