Under the magic and pageantry of the Friday night lights, is a game that thrives on tackles and toughness. The hits keep coming in football. But how hard are they and are kids really protected?
A researcher at Virginia Tech made it his mission to know which helmets are working and which are not. Stefan Duma bought every helmet on the market at random so manufacturers couldn't doctor them.
For more than a year, he strapped them to the head of a dummy and slammed them over and over again; measuring the impacts, force of gravity and damage to the potential wearer. Duma created the country's first-ever football helmet rating system.
"The helmet is kind of the third layer of protection," he said. "You've got to coach well; you've got to enforce the rules and then there's the helmet."
Duma says the average high school football player takes 400 to 1,000 hits per season.
"Most of the impacts are 20, 30, 40G's," said Duma.
That's 20, 30 or 40 times the force of gravity.
"One person can have a 100G impact and be fine. Another person can have a 50G impact and have a concussion," he said.
Which is why having that extra protection inside a helmet is important.
"The players are getting bigger, faster stronger, there's no question. You've got a 300-pound guy that runs like a deer," Duma said.
He says the better helmets are bigger and have more padding.
"Now there's some real clever engineering that is going into this, but the bigger the helmet with more padding reduces acceleration, that reduces risk. These are all four and five stars. There's a lot of choice. It's not just one," he said.
He gave the best helmet- the Riddell Revolution Speed- five stars. He ranked them all the way down to the one star VSR-4 and the "not rated" Adams. He doesn't recommend either helmet.
Our investigation into 30 high schools found that almost half still use the two worst-rated helmets in the study.
The Adams is not recommended and did not get a star, but is still listed on the rosters at several schools. Thirteen of the schools surveyed still use the one star VSR-4.
"I would say they should do everything they could to get new helmets and if you're a parent and your son's in that helmet, you should go out and buy a helmet," said Duma. "We don't think anyone should be playing competitive football with this helmet. The Adams."
Because of our investigation, three high schools pulled the helmets and one pledged to phase the low-rated helmets out of use.
What advanced helmets do is lower the risk. There's no correlation between cost and safety. The worst helmet on the list retails for $200. There's a four-star helmet for $170.
So take a look at your child's helmet tonight. Here's a link to the rankings system: http://www.sbes.vt.edu/nid.php
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