Guardian Caps: Marketing v. Research – How is a parent to know?

“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.

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