Foremost tester of contact sport helmets suggest major changes

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ROCKFORD, Tenn. (WVLT) A Rockford, Tennessee man who leads the world in helmet testing and head safety suggests the only way to keep players from head injury, is to drastically alter the way contact sports are played.

David Halstead started Southern Impact Research Center nearly 30 years ago. It's one of the world's most premiere testing facilities for helmets. Whether it's football, baseball, hockey or even the military, if it has to do with protective headgear it's likely gone through testing in Halstead's facility.

Halstead has quite the resume to his name as well. Any football helmet worn on the professional or local field, has his stamp of approval. He works with the NFL to make sure helmets are up to par. And he set the standard for all helmet requirements. That's his job as Chairman for American Society for Testing Materials. It's also his job to be the official representative for the United States of the International Standards Association for Headgear.

When it comes to keeping your head safe, Halstead knows what he's talking about.

And with all the talk of concussions and head safety lately, Halstead says his findings and position on how to take care of your head are not going to make people happy.

"There is no add-on device that is proven to be effective in reducing concussions," Halstead said.

Several football teams have recently started using extra padding on the outside of their helmets as a way to try and reduce head trauma. The only problem, according to Halstead, is they don't work.

"In fact, the preponderance of these add-on devices actually increases the risk, rather than reduce the risk (of injury)."

And Halstead's reasoning is simple: helmets are designed to help absorb hard hits. Concussions also happen when the brain makes a sudden change in direction. Helmets are not designed to protect against those sudden accelerations.

Nor does he mince his words when it comes to what he wants to see done with contact sports.

"There is no magic bullet. Nobody has yet to develop a force field. There is nothing that is going to keep your player from all harm," Halstead said.

That's why he suggests changing the way the game is played instead of changing the helmet.

"Helmets are probably the most effective injury prevention device that's ever been invented. And you must proceed very cautiously if you're going to alter that."

Halstead says the only way to prevent injuries, is to change the mindset of the game. Using the head can only be done incidentally, not intentionally. Head to head contact needs to be eliminated from the sport.

While Halstead admits this radical change would be hard to come by, and people are not happy when he mentions this type of reversal in the way it's played, he also isn't sure exactly what the change would look like. However, if concussions are to be taken seriously and eliminated from sports, stopping the way they are played is the only way Halstead sees a reduction in head injuries.

"The risk of mild traumatic brain injury is very real," Halstead said. "It's not going away. And if you tinker with the equipment he (the player) has, you're probably going to increase the risk of injury."

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