Football Head Injuries: Can Concussions Really Be Stopped by Modern-Day Helmets?

VIDEO: Should Sports Helmets be Regulated?
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Andy Sandkamp's teenage son practiced a football drill in September 2007 known as the "cadet maker," a maneuver in which a linebacker runs full-speed into a running back, who is blocked by two linemen. As his son attempted to break through the two-person shield and make the tackle, everything changed.

His son was "down and out" immediately after the hit, Sandkamp said. While he never fully lost consciousness, Sandkamp said his son had convulsions on the field and felt dizzy and disoriented. Sandkamp asked that his son's name and age not be published to protect his privacy.

Doctors diagnosed the young man with a concussion. Later, however, Sandkamp and the physicians discovered that it wasn't the first time his son had suffered such head trauma. After a battery of tests, Sandkamp, who lives in St. Paul, Minn., said neurologists told him that his son had actually suffered his first minor concussion during practice a week earlier.

"I really don't want this to happen to another kid, where the first concussion goes unidentified, and they're at greater risk for a more severe, second concussion," Sandkamp said.

Sandkamp said his son suffered from severe short-term memory loss for six months to a year after the accident. His son had been a straight-A student, but his grades plummeted during his senior year after the violent blow to his head.

Concussions and helmet safety in football have become hot-button issues -- and while medical experts, coaches and now even lawmakers are getting involved in preventing brain injury, many experts say the science simply isn't available to fully prevent concussions on the football field. At least not quite yet.

On Wednesday, Brain Injury Awareness Day, New Mexico Senator Tom Udall and New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell unveiled a bipartisan bill, called the Children's Sports Athletic Equipment Safety Act. It aims to protect young football players, ages 18 and younger, from the dangers of sports-related brain injuries.

The legislation specifically focuses on the use of older helmets, which gradually wear out and offer less head and brain protection as years of hard play go by. If passed, the bill would order that new and reconditioned helmets must be tested by a third party to ensure their safety. The legislation also specifically addresses the prevention of concussions in children younger than 12.

"These are good steps to take for player safety," said Sandkamp. "Helmets definitely reduce the incidence of concussion. They won't take care of the whole problem, but they certainly help."

He now hopes to get the word out on concussion safety through venues such as the Brain Injury Association of Minnesota.

The proposed bill would give helmet companies nine months to improve standards voluntarily. If the standards still lacked proper safety measures, the Consumer Product Safety Commission would then be required to set mandatory guidelines.

"Football fans are wondering…if there will be an NFL season this fall, but we're here today to talk about a more important crisis: a concussion crisis," said Udall at the press conference. "I'm talking about a brain injury epidemic that affects 4.5 million football players who are still too young to play in the NFL."

Udall said that there are an estimated 100,000 helmets being used today that are more than a decade old — and kids are the ones who will wear those helmets.

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