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Protecting the head in football: Long-term effects of concussions serious

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The participants in this year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game had a noticeably different look.The uniforms were the same, the hats were the same, and although they looked cleaner, the cleats were the same too. But as some players stepped to the plate, a much larger helmet caught the viewer’s eye just as much as the player’s ability to hit an 0-2 curveball.

These helmets, an alteration of the Rawlings S100 helmet worn by New York Mets third baseman David Wright after a concussion last year, have been prevalent in the minor league ranks for the entire 2010 season, and their introduction was not well received by many players.

“The first two weeks were misery,” Gwinnett Braves outfielder Matt Young said. “They’re not the coolest looking things, but hopefully these helmets will end concussions.”

The impact these new helmets have had on lowering concussion rates can’t yet be known, but it’s obvious they’ve had an effect on the players who are being forced to wear them.

“The initial thought was that it was almost comical,” G-Braves infielder Wes Timmons said. “At this point in your career, most everybody is a grown man. You would think you can make your own thoughts about safety.

“It’s like when you were 7 or 8 and your dad told you to wear a cup for protection. You didn’t like it at first, but you learned to play while wearing it.”

Both Timmons and Young have never suffered a concussion, which is part of the reason they were hesitant to wear the new helmets. The other reason is they trust opposing pitchers.

“You’d like to think 99 out of 100 times, pitchers are throwing the ball where they want,” Timmons said. “I don’t think there’s enough injuries for the space helmets we wear. The helmet I was issued before this was good enough.”

While pitchers have more control at the higher levels of baseball, youth players are prone to wild pitches that put batters in danger.

Timmons, whose 4-year-old daughter is starting to experiment with playing softball, thinks parents should take control of what style of helmet their children wear.

“It should be personal preference,” he said. “If my daughter gets to the point where she wants to play all the time, my wife and I will discuss what’s best.”

What’s best according to minor leaguers, and major leaguers for that matter, is the old style of protective head gear.
“The helmets are definitely a good precursor,” Young said. “But I’m not sure if they work.”

Whether or not the new helmets actually prevent concussions will be determined in future studies, like the one conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center which said the new Riddell Revolution football helmet is helping reduce the number of head injuries.

The three-year study focused on three Pennsylvania high schools and discovered the new helmet reduced on-field symptoms like confusion, headaches, balance problems, sensitivity to light and sound and fatigue.

“Our kids wear some of the best equipment we have ever put on kids,” said Gainesville High football coach Bruce Miller, whose team wears the Revolution helmet. “In the last 30 years, every change that’s been made to the helmet has been with the players in mind.”

Miller said he used to wear a suspension helmet when he played, and he couldn’t comprehend why more players didn’t suffer major head injuries during those days.

“There’s so much research and so many studies done by the professional players, that the helmet and equipment is constantly changing now,” Miller said.

At the high school level, each helmet is tested prior to the start of the season.

Those not suitable for play are discarded and teams must purchase replacements.

Miller estimated his team buys 12-15 helmets each year, and cost is not an issue because when dealing with a child’s safety, “it’s just something you have to do.”

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