Written By: Shane Thomas
The Valdosta State athletic department has gone a step further in its awareness of player safety by spending nearly $10,200 on at least 20 additional Riddell and Schutt football helmets to enhance player safety.
According to a 2012 study by the CDC, athletes in the U.S. suffer 3.8 million sports-related concussions each year.
“Concussions, unfortunately, have been part of football since the start of the game,” VSU athletic director Herb Reinhard said. “What we do at Valdosta State and what you see across college football is that schools are looking at their equipment—making sure they’ve got the most up-to-date equipment.”
“The big change has been in the concussion protocol—we use what is considered to be the gold standard as far as concussion protocol.”
In August 2010, the NCAA adopted legislation requiring each member institution to develop its own concussion management guidelines to reduce risks and safely treat head injuries.
VSU instituted its own concussion management guidelines that require student-athletes to sign a statement accepting responsibility for reporting injuries and illnesses as well as undergoing baseline testing if a head injury is sustained.
Additionally, student-athletes with concussion histories will have baseline testing, which consists of a standard balance assessment, neurological testing and a symptom analysis.
“The protocol has been beneficial because it sets a guideline for how we’re going to manage concussions before we get them,” VSU director of Sports Medicine Russ Hoff said.
Reinhard expresses optimism with the effects the protocol has yielded since its inception.
“Our number of concussions from 2011 to 2012 was down,” Reinhard said. “That’s even more impressive when you consider that we played five additional games. To play about 50 percent more ball games and have less number of concussions, that leads me to believe that the steps we’re taking are working.”
According to Reinhard, the infusion of safer helmets is a move to improve player safety throughout the football program.
“We’ve added about 80 helmets over the last two years,” Reinhard said. “We’ve been able to put more helmets into our inventory to cycle out older or simply adequate helmets.”
VSU, among other universities, uses a rating system developed by Virginia Tech determining the safety of football helmets on a five-star rating scale.
“We looked at helmets that were rated highly on Virginia Tech’s star-rating system,” Hoff said. “We got more than one vendor because helmets fit people differently. We’ve diversified our inventory by manufacturer but we still utilize the star-rating system to choose what are considered higher-quality helmets.”
The price of player safety is steep, but necessary as the university has implemented two different types of Schutt-brand helmets, which are valued at roughly $177 per helmet. Additionally, 18 Riddell Speed helmets were purchased at a value of $245 apiece.
High-impact collisions are frequent throughout the course of a football game and as Hoff says, the amount of space for players is a major factor in how concussions are inflicted.
“Special teams players are probably at the highest risk,” Hoff said. “The kickoffs and punt returns—areas where there is a bit more running space for them to get hit. Usually, it is the defenseless player that doesn’t see the hit coming and gets helmet-to-helmet contact.”
Increasing awareness about concussions and taking measures to enhance player safety has come to the forefront of sports debate and according to Hoff, player safety is improving.
“There is more independence as far as giving control of medical decisions to medical personnel,” Hoff said. “We still have a long way to go—90 percent of what we’ve learned about concussion has happened in the last five years. And, five years from now, we’ll have learned a lot more.”
This article was written Shane Thomas.