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NFL, USA Football Soft-Launch Youth Helmet Replacement Program (UPDATED)

The NFL and USA Football unofficially launched a joint initiative this week that aims to replace youth football helmets that are 10 years old or older for the sake of youth-athlete safety.

The NFL is expected to officially announce the Helmet Replacement Program within the next week or so, according to a representative from the organization, but the timing of the launch is still subject to change. A pilot of the program will be kicking off this spring in New York City, Cleveland, New Orleans, and San Francisco.

Youth football leagues in those four cities can apply between now and May 23, according to an NFL representative. USA Football, the official youth football development partner of the NFL, will select leagues based on economic need and federal poverty indices, in an attempt to target underrepresented and underserved populations of players.

Leagues determined to be eligible for the Helmet Replacement Program will receive replacement helmet offers from four major manufacturers—Rawlings, Riddell, Schutt, and Xenith—and will be allowed to choose their preferred manufacturer, according to an FAQ posted on the initiative's website. The program will also send a licensed helmet reconditioner to each participating league to verify the number of helmets 10 years or older that they have.

Once the reconditioner determines the number of helmets that each league needs to replace, each league will receive an e-mail with a voucher for the money to replace those helmets. Those leagues participating in the pilot program will receive their helmets before the start of the fall 2012 football season.

The initiative stemmed from the fact that starting this fall, the National Athletic Equipment Reconditioners Association will stop reconditioning football helmets that are 10 years or older. Since economically-challenged leagues may struggle to keep their equipment as current as necessary, the NFL and USA Football will specifically target those types of leagues with this initiative first.

In the FAQ, they say, "Given this new guideline and advances in helmet technology during the last decade, we feel strongly that these old helmets should be removed from play and replaced with newer helmets.

Both organizations are quick to point out, however, that no helmet will ever fully prevent concussions. Last fall, lawmakers on Capitol Hill took helmet manufacturers to task for suggesting that certain helmets could reduce the risk of concussion, despite no scientific evidence proving such.

UPDATE (May 15, 2:00 p.m.): The NFL and USA Football officially launched their youth helmet-replacement initiative today, announcing that roughly $1 million has already been contributed for the first year of the program.

The initiative is expected to replace nearly 13,000 youth-football helmets in its first year, according to a press release.

"We are pleased to be part of this initiative, which will give children in underserved communities access to new helmets, and to reach coaches and parents with educational information to help protect young athletes from head injuries," said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in a statement. "This program is part of our focus on player safety at all levels of the game. We are proud to join with these well-respected organizations to make the Helmet Replacement Program a reality."

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