July 28, 2014

U-of-I doctor: modern football helmets do not prevent concussions

The director of the University of Iowa’s sports concussion program says modern football helmets do not prevent concussions. Dr. Andy Peterson says helmets help diffuse the impact of collisions on the football field, but the helmet doesn’t absorb the forces of that impact.

“There’s this common fallacy that equipment can prevent concussions in some way and it doesn’t. There’s never been any evidence that a better helmet, a cap that you add to the helmet, any additional padding, any other piece of equipment really makes any difference,” Peterson says. “In fact, a very elegant study was just done out of the University of Wisconsin that demonstrated that football players really didn’t have any change in their concussion risk based on the age of their helmet, the quality of the helmet, the price of the helmet, the brand of the helmet, any additives to the helmet, type of mouth guard they’re wearing.”

Helmet manufacturers have begun to void the warranties on helmets that have been altered with more padding or other add-ons.

“These companies that are marketing their products to try to prevent concussions don’t actually do that,” Peterson says. “There’s no evidence that they do anything and the Federal Trade Commission has started to crack down on that.”

The doctor says modern-day helmets do help protect against skull fractures and the kind of traumatic head injuries that cause bleeding in the brain that can lead to death.

“Football is as safe as it’s ever been. I think people lose track of this. There were only two traumatic deaths in all of the U.S. and that compared back to the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s when where were, maybe, a hundred deaths a year,” Peterson says. “Football has become dramatically safer over the past decade.”

Marv Cook, a former NFL tight end who was stand-out at the University of Iowa, now coaches high school football at Iowa City Regina.

“The thing is these kids are getting bigger, faster and stronger and I can attest to that. I mean, I’ve seen these kids grow up and from when I was playing to now and they run faster, they hit harder,” Cook says. “And a lot of it’s got to be in the way we coach the game. I’m an ambassador with ‘Heads Up USA Football’ with the NFL and there’s new ways to teach to tackle, to try to keep the head out of the tackle, and I think that’s the direction that the league is going to be going and high school and college football as well.”

The coach and the doctor made their comments during taping of a program set to air Tuesday night on Iowa Public Television after the PBS show FRONTLINE examines the subject of concussions in the NFL.