An investigation by News 2 found helmets deemed marginal in reducing risk of concussions were being used in public schools.
Virginia Tech tested 23 adult football models and used a star system to rate the helmets based on the its ability to reduce concussions.
Helmets rated with five stars were considered to be the best at reducing concussions, while those with one were considered to be marginal.
News 2 obtained helmet inventories from school districts across Middle Tennessee and compared the helmets in use to the helmets tested by Virginia Tech.
The majority of helmets in use were rated at least three stars, with 213 helmets coming in with four-star ratings and 130 helmets coming in with five-star ratings.
In Metro Nashville Public Schools, however, 35 helmets were rated with two stars and another 2 with one star.
MNPS’ Athletic Director Roosevelt Sanders told News 2 the district is phasing out all helmets rated below three stars.
“We generally encourage our coaches to purchase the four and five star helmets,” he said. “We work closely with our coaches to provide them with the best possible helmets.”
Each year MNPS sends all of helmets to Riddell to be reconditioned.
“What they do is inspect the outer shell of the helmet for scrapes, for cracks and the inner part of the helmet,” Sanders said. “There is also a disinfecting that is done to clean the helmet.”
Sanders said the factory also checks all the padding inside the helmet and looks for any defects with how the helmet is constructed including the facemask.
“There are things that have been put in place in purchasing equipment to upgrade not only the athletic programs of metro schools but also raise the awareness of safety,” he said.
MNPS has also had a long partnership with Vanderbilt’s Sports Medicine Department. VSMD provides athletic trainers at all of MNPS’ high school football practices and football games to be on hand in case of injury.
The trainers also conduct baseline tests for each student athlete at the beginning of the year to be able to quickly recognize the signs of a possible concussion.
The trainers have the ability to remove a student athlete from a game or practice if they suspect the student has a concussion or other injury.
VSMD has also conducted its own study of football helmets that is awaiting publication.
“There are certainly a lot of questions when it comes to the long term effects of concussion on long term health and brain health,” Dr. Alex Diamond said. “Right now there is no good scientific strong data that links concussion to these long term effects.”
Dr. Diamond is a pediatric sports medicine specialist at VSMD.
“The level of research surrounding concussions over the last five to seven years has really exploded,” he said. “Not only in the quantity but the quality of the research so we are starting to get some answers to questions we didn’t really have answers to several years ago.”
The issue of concussions and their long term effects has garnered national attention because of recent assertions by former NFL players who said concussions during their professional careers have led to lasting neurological damage.
On July 7, a federal judge approved a settlement that calls for the NFL to pay out around $870 million in compensatory damages and attorney’s fees to settle complaints by more than 4,500 former NFL players.
The settlement put in place a formula for retirees to receive compensation based on age and illness associated with brain damage.
“What is very important to point out is there is no such thing as a concussion proof helmet,” Dr. Diamond said. “We don’t have any method now to prevent concussions outright.”
He continued, “Our main message we want to get out to families, coaches, summer leagues and high schools is awareness.”
Dr. Diamond also said parents should make sure football helmets are fitted properly on their children to help prevent concussions.
“For any sport using the right equipment and making sure that it is fitted properly is really important,” he said. “It is really important for all sports.”
In January, a state law passed requiring all coaches to take an online class about concussions so they are educated on the signs of a concussion and what procedures to follow.