There Is No Safest Football Helmet

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Given the recent controversies over concussions in the NFL, you’re probably a little leery about letting your kid play football. We can’t blame you. Even future Hall of Famer Kurt Warner told the “Dan Patrick Show” last year that he’d be scared for his sons’ safety if they followed their gridiron dreams.

Concussions are a problem for football players, from the pro ranks right on down to pony leaguers. Teenage boys suffer the most sports-related traumatic brain injuries – including concussions – each year, most of which stem from playing football or crashing bicycles. No question: There’s risk involved in sending your son out to get pummeled at the 50-yard line, so you want him to sport the best helmet available. Just don’t get lured into shelling out big bucks or pressuring his school to buy the latest and greatest helmet. According to a new study, safest does not mean newest, flashiest, or most expensive.

Researchers tracked more than 1,300 high school football players throughout the 2012 season and found that all helmets, regardless of brand, model, or whether they were shiny-new or up to 10 years old, offered the same protection from concussions. Which means that when one brand claims its helmets are safer than the competitors’ – or that its spendiest model is the best you can get – it’s basically an empty ploy for your pocketbook, says lead researcher Timothy McGuine of the University of Wisconsin Health Sports Medicine Center.

According to McGuine, football helmets are tested and strictly regulated by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment. To make sure they stay in prime working order, all helmets sold to schools must be serviced by the manufacturer every two years and pitched after 10. The result: “Not one NOCSAE-approved helmet is bad,” McGuine says. “They’re all hard shells with slightly different padding and fixation systems, but to say one is better than another just isn’t true.”

Given his findings, McGuine says to rest easy when it comes to helmet quality and your kid’s concussion risk. Yes, brain injuries are always possible in contact sports, but he’s confident football players’ heads are as safe as they can be with today’s helmets, regardless of whether they cost $250 or $850.

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