Minds matter, so protect them—wear a helmet


Candid Color

WS Varsity football player goes up against Sputh Country’s defender in a fall game earlier this year. The helmets that both players wear help to protect them from clashes like this one.

Helen Heaton, Managing Editor

It seems to happen every game: one player tackles another and both their heads slam into the ground. From the stands, it’s hard to imagine that such an impact wouldn’t cause a concussion. But behind the scenes, forces are at work to reduce the danger Spartan football players face.
First is the protection provided by gear, such as helmets. The coaches must constantly oversee the team’s health and safety precautions, including sending the aforementioned helmets to a company for reconditioning every season.
“Basically, they check over the entire helmet. They strip it, they take the paint off, and they make sure all the little parts are working and that the collision shells are manageable—they can still handle heavy collisions,” said Jason Eldredge, the head football coach.
Helmets are either judged acceptable or rejected and replaced by the team.
This year, several helmets were rejected, but the WS program is buying twenty new helmets for another reason–they are slowly phasing in new, more advanced helmets. The shift must be gradual as the team has long staggered its helmet purchases to avoid the cost of replacing them all at once.  Currently, the majority of the players use the Riddell Revolution, but the program is in the process of transitioning to the Riddell Speed.
“I’ll be honest, I originally bought the Speed because they were being advertised as a helmet that did more to prevent concussions,” said Eldredge.
He assigned them to players who had previously suffered concussions as an experiment, in the hopes that the new helmets would reduce concussion rates. However, he saw no difference in concussion rates between players with the new and old helmets.
“It didn’t end up impacting that in any way, shape, or form,” said Eldredge. Nevertheless, he is pursuing the transition for another reason: the comfort and style of the Riddell Speed helmets.
After trying both types, sophomore Brooks Todd has found a noticeable difference.
“This year, I had a Revo Speed helmet, which is slightly different—it’s a different shape, and inside of it they’re more comfortable than the other ones. But they do the same job,” said Todd.
That job, however, is not what most may think. Football helmets generally prevent blunt trauma, not concussions.
“To think about the physiology of how a concussion happens, you have to think about the brain itself as a big jelly sponge of neurons,” said Eric Stanford, one of WS’s athletic trainers. The brain floats within the skull. When the skull moves rapidly and then stops, the brain collides with the skull and creates a concussion.
However, this doesn’t mean there isn’t a way to prevent concussions. The coaches have been working to promote new training techniques that stop players from using their heads when they tackle. They have also reduced the likelihood of concussions by reducing the amount of physical interaction between players.
“We’ve reduced the amount of contact week-to-week. We’ve really limited how often we go full-on against each other in practice,” said Eldredge.
These techniques, along with concussion education, have brought visible results.
“For several years, we were seeing incline rate of concussion—we were seeing more and more each year. Over the last two to three, it started to plateau. And now, over this past year, we’re starting to see a decline again, which is exactly what we want to see,” said Stanford.
Yet for now, the team is heartened by their new helmets, which Eldredge has found bring confidence to his players.
“They feel better in them. And I don’t know what it is about the adolescent mind—not just today, but back when I was growing up, too—whenever you like you’re more comfortable and you look good, sometimes that’s mentally what you need to play better. I know that sounds silly, because it is. But these kids, man, they put that helmet on and all of a sudden they feel invincible,” said Eldredge.