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Helmet safety group awards concussion grants

Board members for the organization that sets safety standards for athletic equipment determined on the first day of its winter board meetings that more research was needed before any recommendations on helmet safety could be made.

On Day 2, they awarded a big chunk of money to help that research.

The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment awarded nearly $610,000 in concussion research funding on Saturday and created a new scientific advisory committee to direct concussions research efforts.

"Investment in research, like the grants we awarded and creation of the Scientific Advisory Committee, provides the foundation for our work to protect athletes on the field of play," NOCSAE executive director Mike Oliver said in a statement.

"It is our mission to continue to drive the science of sports medicine so youth and adults who choose to play sports can know their equipment is certified to standards based on the best available information."

NOCSAE's board of directors — comprised of doctors, engineers, coaches and equipment companies — agreed on Friday that there wasn't enough scientific data to move forward with creating stiffer football helmet standards. Helmets used in the NFL — and NCAA or high school football — are supposed to pass a voluntary test developed by the group.

The nonprofit corporation, which has devoted more than $2.5 million in research toward athlete safety, tried to further some of that research by awarding the new grant money at its winter board meeting. That includes nearly $340,000 earmarked for a new study on concussion biomechanics and to fund a second year of research for three other ongoing concussion studies.

The new scientific committee also will consider grant proposals for numerous other multiyear concussion studies, some of which were presented to the board during its meetings.

"Despite a significant investment in concussion-related research, scientists have not determined what helmet performance threshold can be adopted that will result in increased concussion prevention," said Dr. Robert Cantu, NOCSAE vice president and senior adviser to the NFL's head, neck and spine medical committee.

"I am confident that the Scientific Advisory Committee will conduct and direct goal-specific research intended to provide the answers which can be incorporated into our standards to better protect against concussions."

Concussions have become a hot-button issue in recent years as doctors and scientists have gained a better understanding of head injuries and the long-term effects caused by them.

The NFL has been at the center of the discussion, thanks to a rash of head injuries, prompting interest by the federal government.

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., has been a big proponent of increasing helmet safety and asked the Consumer Product Safety Commission to become involved in the process. CPSC head Inez Tenenbaum agreed and the commission had a representative attend NOCSAE's board meetings in the desert this weekend.

"CPSC takes the issue of helmet performance seriously," CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson said. "We look forward to NOCSAE acting, at a minimum, on recommendations presented by their vice president Dr. Robert Cantu, which included conducting further research and seeking a partnership with the federal government focused on education."