We have highlighted the work done by Stefan Duma of Virgina Tech on the STAR rating system for helmets. I have said that a proper system to help with informed buying is key for education and awareness purposes. I continue to believe that Duma’s work is a good start as it relates to this, however there are some flaws. The Concussion Blog was created to bring awareness on all fronts, whether I agree with it or not. There are always opposing view points and we are willing to listen to all of them, the comment section is a prime example of this.
Staying with the goals of the blog I received an op-ed piece from Schutt about the STAR rating system, I feel it is both important to publish and reflect on the information. Below is the full article along with contact information if you have questions;
Why the VA Tech STAR Rating System Can’t Be Trusted
By: Glenn Beckmann
Professor Stefan Duma and a team from Virginia Tech University recently developed what they claim to be a football helmet testing process that shows how well a helmet can prevent concussions. This new STAR rating system is presumptuous, possibly irresponsible and probably dangerous. Why? Because the testing methods are severely lacking and the laboratory results do not accurately reflect real, on-field statistics – which discredits the ratings from the start.
There are dozens of factors that can cause a concussion, but the STAR rating system considers only one: linear forces of impact. Such a limited testing protocol ignores many of the other factors that have been widely recognized to cause concussions.
Some of the unaddressed factors include rotational forces; time duration of impact; position played on the field; temperature; medical history; height, weight, size and speed of player; genetics, etc.
Of these factors, the two most important are rotational forces and time duration of impact. Rotational forces are recognized by concussion experts around the world – and acknowledged in Professor Duma’s findings – as a primary causation of concussions.
How can a study (that is supposed to be a true indicator of concussion prevention) ignore primary factors in the causation of concussions?
But, let’s assume for a moment that the study is a true indicator of concussion prevention. It would stand to reason that the players wearing the top-rated helmets from the STAR system would be suffering fewer concussions.
That seems like a simple, logical conclusion, yes?
Unfortunately for the STAR system, that’s not the case.
Our team at Schutt Sports has collected and studied data for the 2009 and 2010 NFL seasons. We know which helmet every player in the NFL is wearing. And using the NFL’s Official Injury Report each week, we know which players are suffering concussions. After reviewing both seasons, here’s what we found:
- Riddell Revolution Speed (5-star rated helmet): 30 concussions among 302 players wearing it
- Schutt AiR XP (3-star rated helmet): 28 concussions among 298 players wearing it
- Schutt AiR Advantage (2-star rated helmet): 32 concussions among 487 players wearing it
According to the STAR system, the players wearing the XP and AiR Advantage should be suffering concussions at a significantly higher rate. But that’s simply not true. This is only a small sample of real, on-field injuries not following the predictions/ratings of the STAR system.
Advocates of the study want to know: why can we use rating systems to help us pick our cars, our doctors and our schools – but not our helmets?
Here’s the answer: because such a rating system gives a false sense of security to the coaches, parents, players and managers expecting a certain level of protection and, unfortunately, concussion deterrence, from helmets that are highly rated by the STAR system.
Already, that false sense of security is in play. A recent article in the Indianapolis Star told the story of high school football coach Ryan Gallogly learning of the STAR rating system and then feeling a great sense of relief when he found all his players were wearing four- and five-star helmets.
It would stand to reason that Schutt would be excited about this report – as our helmets are among those that Gallogly is so proud to have his players wearing. But no helmet should be praised simply because of the STAR system. Concussions are too complex of an injury to be whittled down to one simplistic, limited test like this one.
It is not my intention to discourage the academic research conducted by talented doctors, scientists and researchers like Professor Duma and his team at Virginia Tech. I just want to make sure they are sending the right messages and are not trying to capitalize on a frenzied concussion environment, at the potential expense of football players everywhere, of all ages.
When considering which helmets to use, coaches, parents, players and managers should reference the guidelines issued on the website for the National Operating Committee for Standards on Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE): www.nocsae.org
Glenn Beckmann is the marketing communications manager for Schutt Sports. He will send the comprehensive NFL data cited in the op-ed to anyone interested in reviewing. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After this post Dr. Duma asked that I post this in response;
Dear Mr. Beckman,
Thank you for your comments. Over the past few months, I have had discussions with Schutt representatives. Unfortunately, it appears those comments were not shared with you. Let me elaborate on two key issues that your raise:
First, let us discuss rotational acceleration. It is important to note that the primary reason that we did not use rotational acceleration was because we wanted to develop a system that the manufacturers could quickly implement in their laboratories. Ironically, you direct players and coaches to NOCSAE, but NOCSAE only uses linear acceleration as well. In fact, no standard currently for any helmet or automobile uses rotational acceleration. Of course this is a limitation, and given the feedback we have received, we are developing STAR-2. We will release this in 2012 and it will include both rotational and linear acceleration components, as well as other testing modifications.
Furthermore, our data show that linear and rotational head accelerations are highly correlated in the majority of helmeted head impacts, especially the higher impacts. In general, for most impacts, lowering linear acceleration will lower rotational acceleration.
Second, it is not possible to draw conclusions from the concussion numbers and helmet use data that you present from the NFL. One can only do this if you know the head impact exposure of all players, so that you compare apples to apples. In other words, you can only compare on-field concussion rates in players with different helmets if you know the exposure of each group of players (ie, how many head impacts and at what severity). For example, if Helmet #1 is worn by starting linebackers in the NFL and they have 5 total concussions in one year, while Helmet #2 is worn by backup quarterbacks who sustain 0 concussions that year, it is incorrect to say that Helmet #2 is better than Helmet #1 since the exposure for those groups is very different.
Another problem with using the NFL injury data is that you effectively have 32 teams with 32 different policies on reporting concussions. As an illustration of this, let us look at the 2010 NFL injury report and four teams that had nearly the same types of helmets: Tampa Bay, San Diego, Seattle, and Baltimore. During 2010, Tampa Bay reported 0 concussions, San Diego reported 1 concussion, while Seattle reported 8 and Baltimore reported 7. This of course is
not reasonable, even without considering under-reporting issues, and it is a critical flaw in your conclusions.
Finally, we are very careful never to use the term ‘prevent’ relative to concussions. Our rating system clearly talks about reducing the risk, and we never say any helmet is concussion proof. We only talk about reducing risk, and that is a key issue. This all boils down to one key question: are some helmets better at attenuating the impact energy and thus lowering head acceleration compared to other helmets? Our answer is yes, some helmet are better than others.
All of this information and more can be found on our web page under frequently asked questions. http://www.sbes.vt.edu/nid.php