“Hey, mom, we have these new igloo caps in football and they reduced concussions by 80%,” reported a 5th grade, first-time football player to his mom in a local town in Fairfield County.
Two weeks ago a local paper ran a very misleading article concerning Guardian Caps in which the Guardian Cap was called “concussion caps” multiple times and the caps were “concussion prevention.” The reporter continued to summarize their use as “It is probably overstatement to suggest the difference is getting hit by a truck as opposed to getting hit by a pillow.“
Over the last two years, I have had “communications” with Guardian Caps about the way in the past they have marketed this product with sometimes less than factual detail, and so I called Guardian about this article. My concern was that now the flawed newspaper article was on the internet and would be googled and read by some parents as fact. Guardian said they did not supply any information to this reporter and they agreed it was poorly written piece, but there was nothing they could do about it.
The Guardian site now has a clear warning in the footer of every page; “*No helmet, practice apparatus, or helmet pad can prevent or eliminate the risk of concussions or other serious head injuries while playing sports. Researchers have not reached an agreement on how the results of impact absorption tests relate to concussions. No conclusions about a reduction of risk or severity of concussive injury should be drawn from impact absorption tests.”
Under the Science & Facts section of their website, Guardian has just one quote in the “What Experts are saying section,” with no author mentioned here other than the source is a October 10, 2012 blog post from “McGill University Physics Professor Review “Newton’s Cradle: Colliding Football Helmets: Physics 101″ ; and below the quote, Guardian has posted, “This is an individual’s opinion and has not been substantiated by any scientific study.”
Guardian stated there was nothing they could do about the article so I then wondered what the high schools mentioned in the article knew of the issues around Guardian so I decided to contact those schools. I wanted to know if schools understood the limitations and the possible liability issues around using an add-on product and if they had notified the parents and the student athletes. I emailed the schools – see my original email and all source documents with links are below (thanks to several people on this list who reviewed and helped me with this effort).
My first concern was if the schools know Guardian Caps does not have scientific research to support that it can prevent or reduce concussion. No helmet or device attached to a helmet can prevent a concussion at this point in time. I supplied the schools with a number of advisories by NOCSAE have been issued on these products. Links below.
My second concern was regarding the potential liability to the school district by attaching this product (which is called a 3rd party add-on) to the football helmet. By using the Guardian Cap, schools may possibly void the helmet manufacture’s warranty and void the NOCSEA certification. I provided the schools the NOCSAE advisory that had been issued on these types of “3rd party add” products. This is an issue in Colorado and some Colorado schools who have been using the Guardian Caps since 2012, are considering banning its use.
What I discovered in contacting the schools is not only are high school students now wearing these caps, but in some places Guardian Caps are being used on middle school and elementary students as young as third graders who playing tackle football. Guardian only began shipping product in the Spring 2012, and so there is only one year of experience using these caps on high school age students. Before research is even begun on a large scale to test what effect this cap has on high school players, the product is now being worn on more vulnerable brains and smaller bodies of kids as young as third grade.
I wonder how these parents would feel if they were at an amusement park and their child was offered an unproven safety device to wear on a roller coaster. They would be assured that other kids said the device felt good when they used it, but there was no scientific research that stated the device definitely worked or whether it caused any harm. Would parents agree to try an unproven safety device to see if it helped? And what about using their child as a test case? I believe it is rather frowned on to experiment with children as subjects.
In 2009, I bought my 6th grade son who had suffered two concussions a $250 “concussion proof” helmet for lacrosse to “protect him against concussions” as the sales clerk promised this new helmet would do. He lasted twenty minutes in a practice before illegal hit sent him backwards and he hit his head on the ground for his third concussion. I sent my son back into a contact sport thinking he was protected. Based on the marketing language on the box and the sales clerk, I made a decision to let my son play. Marketing is not the same as scientific research.
I believe that parents and children using the Guardian Cap should be notified by their schools in writing and sign-off they understand the limitations and liabilities surrounding this product.
From my experience, these schools have staff who promote and believe in concussion education, and I believe the staff ordered these caps in an effort to help, not hurt kids. But have these caps been oversold to coaches and parents as “concussion caps” as the article states? And there is also concern from some ATs and experts in the concussion field that children will be less likely to report concussion symptoms because they believe they are protected or believe it would be wimpy to report if they have on something meant to reduce concussions. Will parents will be less likely to take their children to doctors if they believe this covering can protect their child’s brain? What about possible neck and spine injuries as helmets with the caps collide? The answers are unknown. It will remain to be seen whether this product helps, hurts or has no impact in this informal experiment with these athletes, some of whom are only 8 years old.
Katherine Price Snedaker, MSW
My letter to the schools involved
I am writing to you because I am concerned about the Guardian Caps helmet covers, which per an article in the Stamford Advocate, your football team is currently using as a “safety device” in practice. In addition to being a parent of two sons who have suffered concussions, I am also concussion educator who has spoken locally and nationally on various concussions issues, including recently presenting at Institute of Medicine(IOM)/National Research Council (NRC) on concussions in youth sports (see my bio below). I had the honor of speaking at your school last spring to two upper school Psychology classes on the topic of concussions and was very impressed with your students. I have spoken to your AT and other staff in the past and have been impressed by your concussion policies.
However, after reading the flawed article about Guardian Caps in the Stamford Advocate, http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/sports/article/Concussion-caps-making-the-scene-at-HS-football-4776651.php I felt it was important to share with you the following information concerns safety and liability issues. I know from experience that liability is an important issue to address in a school as my father was superintendent of schools for 29 years and a private school headmaster for 8 years. I am also working with the press to write a follow-up story to correct serious errors in this story.
My first concern with this product is that athletes or parents might falsely believe that this product can help prevent or reduce concussions. No helmet or device attached to a helmet can prevent a concussion at this point in time, and this “safety” device does not have scientific research to support that it can prevent or reduce concussions. A number of advisories have been issued on these products including:
• June 2012 NOCSAE “warns parents and athletes about protective equipment concussion claims” http://nocsae.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/NOCSAE-Consumer-Warning-News-Release-06-15-12.pdf
• 2012 NFHS Statement on these products “has not been able to form a definitive conclusion as to whether a number of such products are, on balance, beneficial or detrimental”: http://ciacsports.com/site/?p=1534
• NY Attorney General issues concussion alert including use of concussion “safety” products: http://online.wsj.com/article/APbecd319ec23e42c4bc79b826f600d2fa.html
• Guardian Cap after the NOCSAE http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap1000000223873/article/guardian-cap-caught-in-catch22-after-nocsae-statemen
The leaders in the concussion community have been following claims made by the company which makes Guardian Caps, beginning before its first delivery in April 2012. There have been issues with the company and sales representatives making claims about the caps which were not substantiated by any research, which over the last year, Guardian has tried to rectify. The Guardian site now has a clear warning in the footer of every page; “*No helmet, practice apparatus, or helmet pad can prevent or eliminate the risk of concussions or other serious head injuries while playing sports. Researchers have not reached an agreement on how the results of impact absorption tests relate to concussions. No conclusions about a reduction of risk or severity of concussive injury should be drawn from impact absorption tests.”
In their science section on their website, after one researcher explains how the cap might work, they post this warning, “This is an individual’s opinion and has not been substantiated by any scientific study.”
My second concern is regarding the potential liability to your school district by attaching this product (which is called a 3rd party add-on) to the football helmet. By using the Guardian Cap, schools may void the helmet manufacture’s warranty and void the NOCSEA certification. Please consult with your legal team to see your district is comfortable with the use and possible consequences of using this 3rd party add-on.Please see helmet companies’ response below.
• The August 2013 Nocsae advisory on 3rd party add-ons: http://nocsae.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/NOCSAE-Add-on-Fact-Statement-8-7.pd
Some Colorado schools have been using the Guardian Caps since 2012 and are considering banning its use. From http://www.denverpost.com/ci_23772337/guardian-cap-controversial-ruling-may-mean-end-use :
After a Denver Post story last week, about the growing use of the Guardian Cap, the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment issued a statement that read, in part: “The addition of after-market items by anyone that changes or alters the protective system by adding or deleting protective padding to the inside or outside of the helmet, or which changes or alters the geometry of the shell or adds mass to the helmet, whether temporary or permanent, voids the certification of compliance with the NOCSAE standard.”
Soon after, CHSAA issued a news release, warning coaches and athletic directors “considering the use of third party add-on accessories (at practices) to work through their risk managers and attorneys. The liability that schools face can be affected by the use of these accessories.”
I would be more than happy to meet with you and anyone else to discuss these issues. While I cannot give legal advice, I am a national expert on the topic of concussions and I can provide some background and sources to help you in making a decision regarding the use of Guardian Caps.
Katherine Price Snedaker MSW
Schutt Helmets’ Position
In this statement to Moms’ Team, Schutt Helmet specifically advises purchasers of its helmets “alterations, additions or component deletions or removals you make to the helmet may void [its] warranty and could adversely affect the protective capabilities of the helmet.”http://www.momsteam.com/nocsae-ruling-third-party-helmet-add-ons-generates-controversy?page=0%2C3 .
Robert Erb, CEO of Schutt, said that while “We work with a number of inventors and outside companies to help them understand helmet impact dynamics, we do not certify or approve the use of third party products in our helmets. We make the best protective gear and prefer that nothing be added or subtracted from the manufactured product. When it leaves our facility, it is fully compliant with NOCSAE and other regulatory bodies, and it is fully insured and warranted. A company that seeks to alter the helmet in any way needs to do its own certification under NOCSAE standards and needs to fund its own insurance. This is no different than after-market automotive or electronic enhancements.” http://www.momsteam.com/nocsae-ruling-third-party-helmet-add-ons-generates-controversy?page=0%2C3#ixzz2dx9N0bgO
My work in the Concussion Field
In February 2013, I was asked to present in Washington to the Institute of Medicine (IOM)/National Research Council (NRC) Commission on “sports-related concussions in youth” on the topic of the concerns of parents with respect to sports-related concussions in youth, as well as the issues and challenges faced by the families of concussed players. As a medical social worker, I have helped guide the recovery process for over hundred children with concussions and their families as they re-entered school and team sports. I have also co-founded and consulted with several CT concussion clinics in Fairfield County and have run support groups for kids with Post Concussive Syndrome.
Since 2008, I have been working as concussion educator for youth sports via SportsCAPP (Sports Concussion Aware and Prepared Program) through public speaking, social media and consulting in the NY Metro Area. Our Youth to Youth Program, MIND YOUR MELON, takes high school athletes who have healed from concussions to speak to groups of middle and high school students. This program benefits middle school kids as they learn about concussions as well as help the athletes find a positive way to share and view their concussions. I have run a number concussion education events for the community and educational programs for schools and camps. Launched in 2010, SportsCAPP.com, an education hub website, created to deal with the loop hole in the Connecticut Concussion Law to help recreational teams, town leagues and private schools use free resources to create concussion policy and bring awareness into their programs for players, coaches and parents. TeamConcussion.org was created in 2010, to be a social media/web create a variety of support groups for teens with concussions to connect with other “healed” teens thru Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. In 2013, PinkConcussions.com was created an info hub for research, resources & answers for female concussions from sports, accident, abuse or military service.