At its recent winter meetings, the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) awarded almost $610,000 to fund concussion research. In addition to a $340,000 grant for the study of concussion biomechanics, the independent and nonprofit standard-setting organization also awarded a second year of funding to studies regarding gender differences in concussion rates among high school basketball, soccer and lacrosse players; the effect of sport-related concussion on cognition, balance and health-related quality of life in adolescent athletes; and the genetic risk factors for concussion and concussion severity. NOCSAE also created the Scientific Advisory Committee to direct research efforts specifically related to concussions and helmet standards; it will be chaired by Robert Cantu, NOCSAE vice president and one of the nation's leading medical specialists in this area. "Investment in research provides the foundation for our work to protect athletes on the field of play," says Mike Oliver, executive director of NOCSAE, which is made up mostly of medical professionals and sporting goods equipment representatives. "It is our mission to continue to drive the science of sports medicine so youth and adults who choose to play sports can know their equipment is certified to standards based on the best available information." In related news, NOCSAE also now requires football helmet manufacturers to submit all certification test data, quality control and sample selection documentation for all helmets manufactured or sold within the past ten years. The organization - which is evaluating that information, along with a third-party independent auditor - has come under government scrutiny lately for having only one drop-test standard (substantially unchanged since it was developed in 1973) designed to protect against the high-force levels that would otherwise fracture skulls. The New York Times reports that top NOCSAE officials have maintained that no scientific data warranted changes. "Any change to football helmet standards must be based on science - not someone's best guess," says Cantu, a clinical professor of neurosurgery at Boston University. "To change the standard to address concussions without needed scientific data would be irresponsible and could jeopardize the safety of athletes. Part of this effort is analyzing every piece of available data regarding football helmets, which may help shape potential changes to our standard." Many of NOCSAE's two-day meetings were closed to the public, but Oliver told The Times that the reconditioning of used helmets - often worn by adolescent players - was not specifically addressed. Given how at least two reconditioning plants have flouted NOCSAE's drop-testing rules, though, the organization will consider whether a third party might oversee the certification of all helmets, both used and new. Meanwhile, the National Athletic Trainers' Association and the National Football League are raising concussion awareness with the goal of helping pass concussion-related legislation in every state. Both organizations have teamed up to promote laws modeled after Washington's Zackery Lystedt Law, which requires concussion education for players, coaches and parents; immediate removal from play of a student-athlete who appears to have suffered a concussion; and clearance by a health-care professional before a concussed player returns to action. So far, at least nine states have enacted concussion laws, while others - including Pennsylvania, Wyoming and Utah - have legislation pending. For more information on the various concussion education tools available, click here.
Oversight Group to Fund Concussion Research, Strengthen Helmet Standards
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