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Concussion Experts Reject Multiple Youth-Hockey Helmets as Unsafe

Though football draws a majority of the headlines regarding youth sports-related concussions, hockey isn't far behind in terms of concussion risk. Accordingly, parents of youth-hockey players should be wary of what helmet their child is wearing, based on the findings of a study published online Monday in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering.

Researchers from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University tested 32 brands of hockey helmets to gauge how well they would protect players against concussion. Duma's team put each helmet through a total of 48 tests—four directions (front, side, top, and back) at three energy levels twice—to gauge how they protect against both linear and rotational accelerations.

Alarmingly, not one of them earned a four- or five-star rating on a five-star scale, and only one—the Warrior Krown 360—earned a three-star rating. Nine, meanwhile, failed to earn a single star, receiving a "not recommended" label instead.

"We don't think anybody should be playing in [the 'not recommended'] helmets," said study co-author Stefan Duma, the head of the university's Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics, to ESPN.com's Steve Fainaru. Duma told Fainaru that hockey players wearing such helmets are at risk of suffering at least six concussions per season, and in some cases, upwards of eight.

According to a 2013 report from the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, male high school ice hockey players suffer 5.4 concussions per 10,000 athletic exposures, which are defined as every time each athlete participates in a practice or a game. No other sport aside from football had a higher incidence of concussion.

Steven Rowson, an associate professor in the Virginia Tech biomedical engineering department, said in a statement that hockey ultimately has the highest rate of concussion of all sports when factoring in females.

"Football has more, but more people play football," Rowson said. "By rate, hockey is the highest, especially for female hockey players. They have a range of bodily injuries, but we are focused on brain injuries and reducing the risk of concussion."

Back in 2013, Duma's team announced its intention of expanding its helmet study beyond football helmets. Over the next decade, it plans on evaluating baseball, softball, and lacrosse helmets, while continuing to gauge the safety of football and hockey helmets, too.

In speaking about the hockey study in particular, Duma explained that the team's goal wasn't to incite panic about the safety of hockey.

"Our focus is to improve the safety of the sport, and we have spent a great deal of time developing the methods and relaying these to the manufacturers so that they can optimize their designs," he said in a statement. "Our hope is to see new helmets come into the market with improved performance."

According to Fainaru, the Hockey Equipment Certification Council had previously certified all 32 of the helmets that Duma's team tested as safe. HECC president Alan Ashare expressed concern about the findings, saying, "Once I see the data, I'll be really happy, and then we'll change it. Or somebody should change something."

Virginia Tech's football helmet ratings did wind up having the effect Duma hopes the hockey ratings will ultimately have. While just one football helmet earned a five-star rating in an initial evaluation, 12 received five stars in the most recent evaluation, according to Fainaru.

Virginia Tech's helmet ratings can all be found online here.

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