I-Team 8 gets look inside helmet meeting

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Concern and debate is growing after an I-Team 8 investigation into the safety of football helmets put on children.

I-Team 8 has the exclusive on one proposal that could change how youth football helmets are certified.

As parents and players try to make sense of which football helmet is right, I-Team 8 uncovered politics, money and a partnership is the game played off the field.

There is a proposed change that could give parents more guidance in knowing the safest youth football helmets.

“Are they doing everything they can to protect my kids? For 20 years the industry has had the opportunity to improve their helmets, and I think they have dropped the ball,” Lee Hanson said.

Hanson took technology he developed for the military and created The Guardian Cap. The product adds extra padding outside the helmet. It’s used by teams from Clemson and Syracuse.

The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, or NOCSAE, has no standard for youth football helmets after discussing it for 20 years. Helmet makers say adding anything like the Guardian Cap or sensors to track concussions would void the warranty of the helmet. NOCSAE says adding anything to the helmet would void the certification. Hanson says they’re blocking technology.

“NOCSAE sets the standard and then they allow the helmet companies to be the judge and jury to allow people to use it or not,” he said.


Some, including Hanson and Bill Simpson of Brownsburg-based SG Helmets question if NOCSAE should be trusted to set the standard. Simpson has developed helmets and fire suits for race car drivers for nearly 60 years. Racing helmets are certified by The Snell Memorial Foundation, which has some of the toughest standards in the world. Simpson wants to toughen certification standards of youth football helmets to the level of auto racing.

I-Team 8 took hidden cameras and microphones into a recent meeting of helmet manufacturers in Indianapolis. During the meeting, Snell and helmet standards were discussed. Press play in the video player above to see and hear what happened.

Update: 24 Hour News 8 incorrectly reported that according to its website, Snell does not accept money from helmet manufacturers or those they certify. Snell does accept fees from manufacturers but does not allow a helmet manufacturer representative to sit on its Board of Directors according to The Snell Memorial Foundation web site. NOCSAE has helmet manufacturers on its board and is funded through licensing fees paid by the helmet manufacturers.


Race car drivers Rick Mears and Johnny Rutherford have seven Indy 500 wins between them. They credit Snell helmet standards for saving their lives in crashes that had their helmets scraping the pavement at over 100 mph.

“It makes you realize why they’re in the business — you know, to make the equipment that you need to keep everybody safe. (I’m) just very fortunate to have it on,” said Mears.

Rutherford crashed in Phoenix in 1980. After flipping upside down, his helmet was sent to Snell. The three-time Indy 500 winner recalls the letter sent by Snell.

“The letter, last paragraph said a helmet of any less integrity would have certainly produced a fatality,” said Rutherford.

No helmet can prevent concussions and there is little oversight in what football helmet manufacturers claim about their effectiveness. Senators Tom Udall and Jay Rockefeller have repeatedly proposed toughening safety standards for youth sports equipment. They want the Federal Trade Commission to fine manufacturers for false claims. The legislation failed last year.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, or CPSC, regulates children’s bike helmets.

“You take CPSC, they don’t say a lot about the requirements,” NOCSAE technical adviser Dave Halstead told the group during the meeting. “They carry a really big hammer. You violate the law if they find you fail to meet the standards. Somehow Snell has a very successful hammer. NOCSAE lacks that hammer.”

“It’s all about money. It’s not about safety,” said Hanson, who developed The Guardian Cap.

I-Team 8 talked with Snell. The company is not currently working on a youth standard. Simpson and Hanson want a tougher standard.

There are resources for parents of children in any sport that involves a helmet. Click here to read up on different sports.

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