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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's crusade to reduce concussions continued this week with a warning. To players who break new rules banning violent hits to the head, Goodell said, we're watching.
Concussions have been big news lately, with concern about sports-related head injuries at an all-time high. That concern isn't just for professionals but for younger players, too.
One result of this, as NPR's Tom Goldman reports, more companies are promoting anti-concussion products.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: I got the email a week ago Monday. It was from a company called Battle Sports Science, and it was promoting a new football chinstrap device called the Impact Indicator. The language was, to say the least, positive. The Impact Indicator can help curb concussions on the field. This revolutionary product is the only one players can wear to help detect a possible head injury before it's too late.
Curb concussions. Detect before it's too late. It's the kind of language that rankles Dave Halstead.
DR. DAVE HALSTEAD: Anybody who sits down with you and says I have a device that if your child wears it, will either diagnose a concussion or prevent a concussion is lying. Please quote me on that.
GOLDMAN: Dave Halstead is many things.
HALSTEAD: Recently retired as the director of the Sports Biomechanics Impact Research Laboratory. In addition to that, I'm the technical adviser to the National Football League Player's Association...
GOLDMAN: It takes a minute, 32 seconds to recite all of his titles - I timed him. Suffice it to say, if it has to do with protective headgear, Dave Halstead probably is in the loop. He hasn't studied the Impact Indicator, which retails for $149, but he's heard what the chinstrap device does, described here in a sales video.
(SOUNDBITE OF SALES VIDEO)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This sensor is designed to measure the force and duration of a hit and instantly indicate whether a hit has surpassed thresholds that are common to traumatic head injuries.
GOLDMAN: The indication of that hit comes when a green light on the Impact Indicator, meaning all is okay, turns red, meaning not okay.
HALSTEAD: The fear here is that you have an individual who has received not much of an impact.
GOLDMAN: Dave Halstead.
HALSTEAD: But has had a significant rotational event. They in fact have a significant mild traumatic brain injury. But they have a green light on the chin cup.
GOLDMAN: By rotational event, Halstead means the kind of concussion-inducing head movement, like whiplash, that doesn't involve a direct hit to the head. It's a harder head movement to measure, he says, especially on a chin strap.
Battle Sports Science CEO Chris Circo says his product does measure rotational movement, as well as direct head impacts. But Circo, who's had five concussions and takes anti-seizure medication, says he knows how complex brain injuries are. In an interview, Circo is more circumspect than his trumpet-like email to the media.
Does the Impact Indicator prevent concussions?
CHRIS CIRCO: Absolutely not.
GOLDMAN: Does it diagnose concussions?
CIRCO: Absolutely not.
GOLDMAN: But, as advertised, it does help, says Circo. And despite Dave Halstead's fear, Circo insists the red light goes on reliably - the way it did, he says, in a recent football game when an 11-year-old player took a hit and seemed fine but the red light lit up and he was pulled from the game. Circo says the player later was diagnosed with a concussion.
CIRCO: He would've kept playing if that light had not gone off. And I can't imagine what could've happened to him.
GOLDMAN: Dave Halstead says he used to get maybe one call a month from people wanting to test what he calls anti-concussion gizmos. Now, it's once a week – helmets, mouth guards, headbands, even a pill. There's a hunger to produce and to consume.
Dr. Gerry Gioia is an expert on child concussions.
DR. GERRY GIOIA: Families will come in and say we got the concussion-proof helmet. That may not be what the company necessarily said, but that's how they've interpreted it. And I have to gently re-educate them about, you know, there is no helmet yet that we know of that can do that.
GOLDMAN: For those products that say they can, Tom Udall is watching. The New Mexico senator has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate misleading safety claims about football helmets.
Dave Halstead says consumers need to ask about anti-concussion products, how were they validated? For Chris Circo, no one should simply rely on the latest technology, including his. Parents, coaches, players, he says, have to be involved and aware when it comes to collision sport.
Tom Goldman, NPR News.