Udall Calls on Commission to Investigate Football Helmet Safety
WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Tom Udall, D-NM, is asking the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to investigate football helmet safety standards, especially for high school and younger athletes, to prevent concussions and other head injuries.
"Being active and participating in sports is important for young people, but we should be taking a serious look at how to best protect our most vulnerable athletes from severe head injuries like concussions," Udall said. "We need to make sure we are looking for every opportunity to improve helmet safety standards for all football players."
In a letter to the commission, Udall notes that sports are the second leading cause of traumatic brain injury for people who are 15 to 24-years-old, behind only motor vehicle crashes. Every year American athletes suffer up to an estimated 3.8 million sports-related concussions, of which 300,000 result in loss of consciousness. More than one million American high school students play football, including nearly 8,000 high school students in New Mexico.
Although football helmet safety technology has drastically improved since the days of leather helmets, today's helmet safety standards may not be informed by current understanding of concussion risks. For example, the current standard primarily protects against serious injury from a severe, direct blow. However, it does not address the risk of a concussion caused by less severe impacts or by rotational acceleration resulting from indirect hits that spin the head and brain. The standard also does not distinguish between helmets designed for professional, high school and younger football players, and the "one size fits all" approach may not be appropriate for younger athletes who are not as big and strong as professional players.
New Mexico is one of nine states that has adopted a sports concussion law to help prevent brain injuries to student athletes. The state law requires that coaches receive awareness training and that any student athlete who suffers a concussion stay on the sidelines for at least one week and until a medical professional approves their return to play. Football has the highest incidence of concussions, which also occur less frequently in other sports such as baseball and soccer.
Udall, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, helps oversee the work of the CPSC as part of his duties as a member of the committee's Consumer Protection Subcommittee. The CPSC has jurisdiction over more than 15,000 consumer products, including sporting equipment.
The full text of the letter to CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum is included below:
November 30, 2010
The Honorable Inez Tenenbaum
Consumer Product Safety Commission
4330 East West Highway
Bethesda, Maryland 20814
Dear Chairman Tenenbaum,
I am writing to request that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) investigate the adequacy of current voluntary helmet safety standards in protecting football players, and especially high school and younger athletes, from concussions and other head injuries.
Sports are the second leading cause of traumatic brain injury for people who are 15 to 24-years-old, behind only motor vehicle crashes. Every year American athletes suffer an estimated 1.6 million to 3.8 million sports-related concussions, of which about 300,000 result in loss of consciousness. Medical research indicates that repeated concussions may lead to dementia and lasting brain damage. More concussions occur in football than in other sports.
Although football is a contact sport that will always involve some risk, safety equipment can help reduce injuries. Helmets are important for preventing concussions and other brain injuries, particularly for the more than one million high school students who play football, including nearly 8,000 high school athletes in New Mexico.
The CPSC is charged with the responsibility of protecting the public, and especially children, from unreasonable risks of serious injury or death from consumer products, including sports equipment such as helmets. The CPSC has also previously advised football players about the importance of carefully choosing and properly using safety equipment.
Helmet safety technology has improved significantly since the time when football players wore leather helmets. In 1973, the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) developed the first voluntary helmet safety standard, which includes a drop test that evaluates helmet performance when struck directly on an anvil. Helmets that meet the NOCSAE standard appear to have significantly reduced football-related deaths since the standard's widespread adoption by helmet manufacturers. Yet this voluntary industry standard does not specifically address preventing concussions caused by less severe blows or from rotational acceleration.
News reports have also highlighted that the NOCSAE football helmet standard may not be informed by current understanding of concussion risks and the state of the art in helmet technology. One neurosurgeon who participates in the NOCSAE standards development process stated that football helmets would need to be four times better to protect against concussion. The NOCSAE standard also does not distinguish between helmets designed for professional, high school, and younger football players. This "one size fits all" approach may not be appropriate for child athletes who are not as big and strong as professional players. A recent New York Times article also raises troubling concerns that many school football teams may not be replacing old and damaged football helmets issued to young players. Companies that refurbish football helmets for high school and middle school teams also do not have to independently test and certify reconditioned helmets.
Although the risk of injury does not outweigh the many benefits of playing sports, the CPSC has a responsibility to ensure that football helmets meet safety standards that address concussion hazards and reflect the state of the art in helmet technology. If existing industry football helmet standards and certification practices do not adequately protect high school and younger athletes from concussion and other serious injuries, the CPSC should work to improve helmet safety standards and testing.
Thank you for your consideration and reply. I look forward to working with you on this important consumer protection issue.