Late last month the Times received a press release from the Atlanta manufacturer of Guardian Cap, “a device that was invented to reduce helmet collision momentum transfer.”
It is, according to the guardiancap.com website, “a one-size fits all (padded) helmet cover.” The press release went on to claim, “the device can reduce head impact by as much as 33 percent.”
Sounds like a good thing.
So good in fact that colleges and high schools across the country purchased 8,000 of the devices last year
However, to quote ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso — without getting myself in trouble, “Not so fast, my friend.”
Just one day prior to The Times receiving the above-referenced press release, the Colorado High School Activities Association banned the use of Guardian Caps and any similar devices in any game or scrimmage.
As for their use in practices, the CHSAA cautioned “member schools to seek more information before using such products at any time. The (National Federation) rules require (football) equipment that meets (National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment) standards and we stand behind the Federation on those rules.”
Among the standards they set are those for football helmets and no high school football player is supposed to step on a field with a helmet without a NOCSAE sticker.
Due to the recent proliferation of helmet add-on products intended to decrease the chance of concussion, including the Guardian Cap, the NOCSAE board of directors issued a policy statement on July 16. It read in part, “NOCSAE standards require that any change in configuration, padding, shell geometry, or protective system requires a new model designation with separate certification.”
In short, use of the Guardian Cap voids the NOCSAE certification.
That won't stop the University of South Carolina from using the product, according to a story which appeared in USA Today six days ago. The Gamecocks used 32 of them on linemen during spring practice this year, to rave reviews by those wearing them. Consequently, USC purchased enough to equip the entire team this fall.
I understand the popularity of the product among linemen. The low-to-moderate-speed collisions they experience on play after play would certainly seem to be mitigated by a well-designed system of outside padding.
Nonetheless, NOCSAE's concerns, especially in regards to changing configuration, padding or helmet geometry are legitimate. The Guardian Cap certainly increases the geometric size of a helmet and in so doing enlarges the helmet's — for lack of a better term — ”sweet spot.” Consequently, a high-speed direct hit — as opposed to a glancing blow — becomes more likely.
Not such a good thing when the concerns are concussion and cervical spine (neck) fracture. Guardian Cap's makers claim their padding system encourages glancing blows. Still, in comparison to an uncovered polished shell, that's just not possible. If a helmet “catches” — rather than deflects — a high-speed blow toward the front of its crown, a broken neck becomes a very real possibility.
Until scientific study can absolve any external padding system of that suspicion, NOCSAE shouldn't budge.
John Doherty is a certified athletic trainer and licensed physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT.