A recent study by Virginia Tech found the Riddell Revolution Speed to be the best anti-concussion football helmet currently on the market. Predictably, a couple of rival helmet-makers are taking issue with the science behind Virginia Tech's study.
First, Xenith, whose X1 model ranked four stars out of five (the Revolution was the only five-star model), released a statement critical of the research. It read in part:
Although we support the exploration of new ways of testing and evaluating helmets, we find this type of ranking concept, in which one group attempts to make definitive, simplistic, and non-validated assertions about the protective qualities of helmets based solely on laboratory data, to be well beyond the scope of any one group's capability or authority, and scientifically impossible. ...
Laboratory tests simply do not correlate enough with player injuries for claims to be made or rankings to be given regarding particular helmets based on laboratory data. For example, helmets are tested with no facemasks, and no consideration is given to rotational acceleration, which is believed by many scientists to be the most important factor in concussive episodes. Further, the variability between laboratories, even those using the same type of machine, can be very significant, so comparisons done in different laboratories will likely yield different results, none of which correlate definitively with player injury.
Now Schutt, another helmet manufacturer, is disputing the results of the study. From a statement Schutt sent to Pro Football Talk:
Concussion statistics from the 2009 and 2010 NFL seasons contradict the Virginia Tech conclusions: Of the 297 players who wore a Riddell helmet that got a five-star rating from Virginia Tech, 30 suffered concussions. But of the 303 players who wore a Schutt model that got a three-star rating, 27 suffered concussions. And of the 489 players who wore a Schutt model that got a two-star rating, 31 suffered concussions.
I do not know what to believe here. Part of this is likely pure damage control from a business perspective -- Riddell's helmet was rated higher than Xenith's or Schutt's, so if you aren't top dog you tear down the science. Part of it, though, also indicates that more study of helmets is needed -- including possibly studying the way helmets are tested.
What I do know for sure is that I am glad the quality and safety of football helmets is gaining increasing scrutiny, and that helmet-makers are trying to improve the safety of their product. In the end, the safest possible product is what everyone wants.