Home » Brain Sentry » NOCSAE Ruling On Helmet Sensors Generates Controversy

Throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

NOCSAE Ruling On Helmet Sensors Generates Controversy

Voiding of helmet certification if helmet modified in any way criticized as a step back for player safety


Brain Sentry: Contrary to safety goals

Greg Merrill, CEO of Brain Sentry, which makes a three-ounce impact sensor attached to the back of a helmet which flashes when an athlete has sustained a heavy hit, alerting teammates, game officials, sideline coaching and medical personnel, even parents in the stands, to watch for signs or symptoms of concussion or prompt a sideline concussion screening. 

"The NOCSAE position seems contrary to the safety goals of the organization as I understand them," said Merrill. "Some of the items NOCSAE is potentially blocking absolutely have safety benefits to the participants in these sports. Given the serious nature of brain injury and the challenges sports have in coming up with solutions, NOCSAE needs to find ways to support innovation."

"The NOCSAE position effectively requires 3rd party manufacturers to get manufacturers to agree to including their products in the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) helmet specifications, which in some cases is a business conflict. It seems, at least on the surface, that NOCSAE's position is purely for the benefit of the OEM helmet manufacturers (whose licensing fees constitute the primary source of NOCSAE's funding) without concern for safety of the athletes."

"A more reasonable approach for NOCSAE would be to require that companies that propose after-market attachments have them certified by NOCSAE for each helmet they propose attaching to - without effectively giving OEM helmet companies veto rights to that testing and certification," said Merrill.

Merrill said that "NOCSAE's statement regarding changes to geometry and mass are not consistent with the NOCSAE testing procedures -- in which the helmets are NOT tested with face masks (which obviously changes the geometry and mass of the helmets).  NOCSAE knows that some innovative aftermarket helmet attachments, including the Brain Sentry Impact Sensor, have already been tested by NOCSAE test labs and found to have NO adverse effect on helmet performance."

"The NOCSAE position, unfortunately, sets back concussion innovation 20 years," Merrill charged.  Specifically, he said, the ruling:

  • Undermines the NFL/GE/UA Head Health Initiative Challenge II.  A major goal of this multimillion dollar safety initiative is to develop sensors and devices that monitor impacts and distribute the force of impacts. NOCSAE's position significantly narrows the options for this research. "We need to keep all options on the table so innovators can work to improve the safety of collision sports," said Merrill;
  • Undermines research and commercialization of helmet mounted impact sensors: NOCSAE's position effectively prohibits youth, high school, and college sports programs from using aftermarket impact sensors if they are attached to helmets, eliminating the use of such sensors, both for research needed to develop this technology (a point emphasized by Pop Warner's Butler), as well as impeding potential commercial application of that technology;
  • Negatively impacts funding in helmet safety: NOCSAE position raises questions for potential investors about the commercial viability of third party helmet sensors and other safety initiatives, thus reducing the funds spent on research and product development in this important and promising new technology.
  • Eliminates the opportunity to make impact sensors available to every athlete: For sensors to be available for all athletes the sensors must be an aftermarket add-on that can work across helmet brands. The new Riddell InsiteTM sensor, for example, is currently available in only one Riddell helmet model, so all other players wearing other Riddell helmets, whether old or new, do not currently have access to Riddell's important safety advance.  Besides which, according to Merrill, the Riddell technology has limited utility, because it requires an athletic trainer to be present on the sideline to remotely monitor data received from the sensor array in the helmet. As Merrill correctly observes, most youth football programs, and as many as fifty percent of U.S. high schools, do not have access to athletic trainers. In addition, Merrill argues, the high cost and complexity of the Riddell sensor makes it a non-starter for most football programs. As he also points out, as a helmet manufacturer, Riddell is a major funding provider to NOCSAE.
  • Negatively impacts biomarker research: Putting up testing and certification hurdles in the way of the use of third party sensor attachments to helmets, Merrill predicts, will have a chilling effect on research currently underway on biomarkers of concussion. In addition to the more obvious potential benefits of biomarkers for sideline diagnosis of concussion (which is facilitated by the use of sensors to trigger screening), biomarker research holds significant promise to uncover the adverse short- and long-term effects of multiple sub-concussive hits. The largest research initiative in this promising area is dependent on the use of third party helmet-mounted sensors as an impact data collection tool, further supporting the charge in the joint e-mail from the helmet sensor companies that the NOCSAE rule is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.