Football safety not always simple

Safety first.

Everyone says it. Everyone’s heard it. The simple mantra that governs how parents let their children play competitive sports.

And when it comes to football, safety is even more of a prerequisite.

But is safety really that simple?

Chris Weitz is the president of Ellington youth football and like countless other coaches and youth football administrators, takes the safety of his players as a No. 1 priority.

So it is no surprise that when Weitz discovered the Guardian Cap, he did extensive research.

“I called the company to ask for a sample and I showed it to the board to see what their thoughts were,” Weitz said. “I did research and got articles together, after two board meetings we made the decision to outfit all four squads. We bought 120 of them for more than $5,700.”

According to Guardian, the soft-shell helmet cover reduces impacts up to 33%. It is lightweight, waterproof, insulates in hot and cold weather and has been approved for high school practice and games by the National Federation of State High School Association (NFHS).

In a letter written by Jim Tenopir, the NFHS Rules Review Committee Chair: “After review of the documents provided, the Committee has determined that summary disposition of this matter is appropriate; the permissive use of the Guardian Cap Product is not a violation of NFHS Football Rules.”

Since this body also governs youth football across America, Weitz went ahead and gave Ellington coaches and parents the green light to use the Guardian Caps in practice, and if they wanted to, during a game.

“One of the kids on the B team wore it,” Weitz said. “I checked it with the ref and he said no problem. A week later I get emails saying that the NFHS says they are no longer allowing them to be used in play because the NOCSAE, the certification organization for helmets said the use of third party add-ons results in decertification of the helmet. And for the NFHS you must wear a certified helmet during the game.”

The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, (NOCSAE) released this in a statement in July: “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.”

NOCSAE also says helmet manufacturers have the right “under NOCSAE standards to declare its certification void. It also can decide to engage in additional certification testing of the new model and certify the new model with the add-on product, but it is not required to do so.”

So why would the powers that be make it illegal for young football players to use a product that is proven to make the game more safe?

“We are losing, ”Matt Simonds, National Sales Coordinator for Guardian Cap, said. “We are the new guy and are doing something pretty radically different.”

According to Simonds and Guardian Cap, the issue is corporate liability.

“In the off chance, in the numbers game, where one kid a year may go down with a catastrophic neck injury, they could get sued over it,” Simonds said. “But with statements made before the fact they can cover their backs and pass liability to Guardian.”

And passing liability, at least today, includes banning the use of the product on the playing field for high school and youth football games.

“Ultimately I had to tell them we had to go with the rules,” Weitz said. “I sent a memo out saying we would continue to use them in our practices since they don’t govern our practices. Whether or not that opens our league up to liability or not I am not clear, but until someone says to me you cannot wear these, we’re going to continue to wear them at practice.”

The situation is frustrating, but ultimately, change can be painfully slow when it comes to the deeply rooted organizational systems for scholastic athletics.

“We hear from them, too, they’re frustrated and mad,” Simonds said. “They spend good hard money on this. The biggest avenue is to talk to the people making decisions. Whether it’s an official or a board member. It’s more of a corporate liability thing whether than a question of whether this product is safe to use in the field. I don’t think that is even a question. Even the helmet manufacturers don’t question whether it’s a safe product.”

With or without the Guardian Cap, coaches need to make sure that proper tackling is preached repeatedly in each and every practice.

“Some people say it could train kids to hit with their head since they have more protection,” he said. “We try to train kids not to do that anyway, that is our training to teach them not to hit with their heads. As a youth program we teach how to tackle correctly.”

The National Athletic Trainers Association says that nearly 67,000 concussions are diagnosed each year to high school football players.

One Comment

  1. Lee Becker

    October 19, 2013 at 10:53 am

    Thank you for this information and your concern to make football a safer and better game.

    Lee Becker
    Director, Football Safety Academy
    Danville Ca

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