Thursday, October 21, 2010

Limited Progress on Concussions

Alan Schwarz continues his excellent work on the concussion and football story.  This time, he focuses on the helmet industry, and we are not surprised to find that there is little regulation here. Much needs to be changed, like how teams practice, how the media covers the big hits, but helmets would seem to be a logical first step, especially for the kids.  No brainer, really (pardon the pun).  Much progress on awareness the past year or so, in large part to Schwarz.  Still much room for improvement on everything else. 

The story is pretty disturbing as some companies will just wait for new standards and see that as acceptable, while standards-setter is waiting, apparently, for a perfect understanding before moving forward, that a tradeoff between skull fractures and concussions (which may or may not exist) is an excuse for doing nothing now.
Art Chou, vice president of Rawlings, agreed: “We’re not in the standards-making business. We make equipment focused on standards given to us.” Chou also serves on the Nocsae board.
Oy!  This is juxtaposed with other companies that say they are on the cutting edge on this but might be making exaggerated claims, such as Ridelll.  I think I would buy the exaggerator's helmet rather than one from the complacent companies. 
Along with Riddell, the company most emphasizing concussion safety is Xenith, whose X1 model is making inroads among high schools, colleges and the N.F.L. The X1 features a radical new design: air-filled shock absorbers that attempt to withstand a wider range of forces than traditional foam. Xenith’s founder and president, the former Harvard quarterback Vin Ferrara, said the Nocsae standard had discouraged innovation among other companies and was “wholly inadequate” for modern football.
This is where government should play a role--that regulation is required when the market does not operate so well.  Especially when the ignorance is vast:
The fact that helmets are held to no standard regarding concussions surprised almost every one of dozens of people interviewed for this article, from coaches and parents to doctors and league officials. Even one member of the Nocsae board, Grant Teaff — who represents the American Football Coaches Association — said he was unaware of it.
 When we ponder who is doing the regulating, this kind of news should not surprise us, but does nonetheless:
Nocsae’s annual budget of about $1.7 million is funded mostly by sporting-goods manufacturers whose products bear the Nocsae seal of approval. The largest share of that comes from football helmet makers and reconditioners.
 Lovely.  No wonder no progress is being made.  My curiosity is thus satisfied.  No more info is required to figure out why we have no concussion standards for football helmets.  Makes me glad that my kid does not play football--I can understand why we have cheap and crappy helmets and why we will be stuck with them for the near future.

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