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Should Impact Sensors Be Put on High School Athletes' Football Helmets?

By: Allan M. Siegel

The increase in attention to athletics, and football in particular, induced concussions, more and more parents are looking for any way to better protect their children. At Loudoun Valley High School in Purcellville, Va., the parents of football players have been pushing to have impact sensors installed on all the players' helmets. The sensors, created by Brain Sentry, measure 3-by-1-inch and attach with peel-and-stick tape to the helmets. When a player takes a big hit, a light would turn on and indicate that trainers should check for a concussion. Brain Sentry, partnering with Inova Neuroscience Research, wanted to put the sensors on all Loudon County football helmets so it could study the data from the students. Although the sensors have not been certified by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, the sensors have been found to have had no adverse effect on helmet performance and have even been adopted by Louisiana State University and the University of Alabama in football practice.

Helmet Sensor

Unfortunately, Loudoun County has declined the offer to install the sensors on the helmets, despite Brain Sentry's offer, and its previous offer to provide liability insurance of $6 million and120 free sensors. The county's reasons for declining included, but were not limited to claims that the sensors lacked sufficient testing and that the sensors could void the helmet's safety certification. They also claimed to worry that the sensors could report false positives and that the district lacked enough trainers to properly monitor the players wearing the sensors. Despite the school district's decision, a group of Loudoun Valley parents attended a recent football practice where about 30 players walked across the practice to the group to have the parents attach the sensors to the back of the helmets. Again though, an assistant principal, after watching a few minutes of practices ordered that any player wearing a sensor not be allowed to practice. The parents group then removed the sensors from the helmets.

While Loudoun County shuns this new technology that could help prevent or better understand concussions, three schools in Williamsburg, Va., and one school in Norfolk, Va., have begun using similar devices manufactured by Riddell. Parents in Loudoun County are now hopeful that other schools adopting the sensors will help encourage the school district to change its position and allow for the helmet sensors.

At CSCS, we understand the complexities of a traumatic brain injury. Partner Joseph Cammarata is a founder of the Brain Injury Association of DC which is dedicated to the research, prevention, and advocacy for brain injuries. He also drafted the Athletic Concussion Protection Act of 2011, which implemented return to play guidelines to protect athletes 18 years old or younger in the District of Columbia. Similar laws and guidelines have been adopted in Virginia thanks to the tireless efforts of the Brain Injury Association of Virginia, and individuals like the parents in Loudon County. This sensor technology helmet could be a valuable tool to aid in the prevention of brain injuries from student athletes all the way up to the professional level.