Football helmet companies weigh in on star ratings

Football helmet companies weigh in on star ratings


by Jamie Grey

Bio | Email | Follow: @KTVBJamieGrey


Posted on February 27, 2014 at 5:04 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 27 at 5:45 PM

BOISE -- This week KTVB has been examining research out of Virginia Tech that suggests different designs can help reduce the risk of getting a concussion.

Researchers looked at the forces football players encounter on the field and replicated the measurements in drop tests. They tested a variety of professional-grade (not youth) brands and models and rated the helmets 1 to 5-stars, based on the amount the helmet reduced g-forces.

Click here to see the initial story on the testing and ratings.

While many consider the research to be a good indication of risk reduction, others say the star rating system should only be a fraction of what's considered by parents, players and coaches.

Helmet company CEO: Ratings are 'misleading'

Two major players in the football helmet world, Schutt and Riddell, weighed in on the star ratings system. Riddell has two helmets in the 5-star or "best available" category. Schutt's two highest rated helmets come in at 4-stars (which is considered to have statistically little difference from the 5-star categories.

Robert Erb, the President and CEO of Schutt, discussed his take on the star ratings with KTVB. He personally calls the Virginia Tech ratings "misleading" for a number of reasons.

First, he says the tests the ratings are based on can't really show the effects on a human brain with certainty.

"It's accelerating and decelerating rapidly. And typically, there's linear impact forces and rotational acceleration and forces that are at play, making the prediction of a concussion highly speculative, at best," Erb said. "It's not that we don't listen to Virginia Tech, it's just that it's one data point in a myriad of complicated variables."

Is a 4-star helmet really better than a 3-star model? Schutt says not necessarily

Erb says Schutt develops its helmets based on tests in different circumstances, and the company has outside companies test their helmets as well. They test for elements beyond linear forces, including looking at rotational energy and temperature.

"We freeze helmets, we bake helmets, we drop them at extreme heights. Anywhere from 108 inches, 98 inches, 90..." Erb said. "Because we're making helmets for the NFL, obviously we're trying to see what we can do to absorb energy at a variety of contexts and at a variety of temperatures."

Erb says while Virginia Tech rates his company's Vengeance and Ion 4D helmets better than some of the other models, for example, he wouldn't say it's necessarily the best for every player, especially in relation to concussions.

"No, because I don't think you can say what's better. The best helmet is the one that carries [national] NOCSAE certification and fits the player, fits the position, is configured with the proper mask, and the player is comfortable in it," Erb said.

Another helmet manufacturer, Riddell, says ratings should be part of player decisions

Riddell, another big helmet manufacturer, which has two helmets in the 5-star category sent KTVB this response to questions about the company's take on the Virginia Tech ratings:

"At Riddell, improving athlete protection is the foundation of our company. We are pleased the research from Virginia Tech continues to show the value of more advanced helmet technology. Additionally, we recommend that parents, players and coaches consider multiple data points when choosing a football helmet. The Virginia Tech STAR rating system is one such data point that should be taken into consideration. Riddell is proud to be the only football helmet manufacturer with two helmets to have received the highest possible, 5-STAR ranking in the latest Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings. We are supportive of credible scientific research that can help educate parents, players and the broader football community about some of their head protection options. We continue to focus on increasing our knowledge and identifying new ways that our understanding of science can help us improve player protection."

Schutt CEO: Parents should know limitations of ratings system

Erb also considers the star ratings as one thing to look into, but he says he'd never advise complete reliance on the system, or any helmet to stop concussions.

"I would never represent to somebody that they're not going to get a concussion if they wear one of our helmets. And I think the people that there's a statistical probability that the athlete will not get a concussion or is less likely to get a concussion, I think, is irresponsible," Erb said.

Mostly, Erb encourages parents, players and coaches to discuss individual size and playing position factors, concussion history and probability, and playing habits with salespeople.

"It's not that I think these are bad people or are coming out with bad surveys, it's just that I'm not sure that as a parent I'd be overly reliant upon it," Erb said. "I think If a parent is going to rely on a star system, they need to take the time and energy to understand what that is, and what it's limitations are."

What helmet does your high school use?

Use the interactive map below (unavailable on the app) to select a high school and see what type of helmets the school uses. Notes: When available, the number of each brand in a school's inventory is listed. All data was compiled by KTVB based on public records requests to 20 area schools. 18 responded completely enough to fill data fields. A few schools use a small number of helmets Virginia Tech did not test.