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Newer helmets not mandated by NFL

| Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, 10:30 p.m.

The NFL implemented rules to counter an apparent epidemic of concussions. An inherently violent game has been tamed only minimally by penalties discouraging blows to the head.

Still, the league is hesitant to mandate that players wear helmets specifically designed to guard against head trauma. Typically, players opt for comfort over safety when deciding which helmet to wear.

“The helmet is definitely the most important piece of equipment we wear,” said Steelers linebacker James Harrison, who has had several concussions during his nine-year career. “I go with whatever feels best.”

Steelers safety Ryan Clark switched to an oversize helmet only after suffering a second concussion of the season two weeks ago. Clark will wear the heavily padded helmet for the second time Sunday at Cleveland.

“It was fine. It's a helmet,” an agitated Clark said. “I'm pretty worn out about the helmet talk, the concussion talk.

“It's what they gave me to protect me. Once you get to playing ball, you're not caring about what equipment you have on.”

The league has an agreement with Riddell — including the new Revolution helmet — through the 2014 season. However, players have the option of using any style or brand of helmet — old or new — certified by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment.

“I know people who have gone to the new helmet and now have gotten concussions but never had them before,” said Steelers quarterback Byron Leftwich. “The guys have the right to decide which helmet they wear, but all the helmets should be safe.”

With the increase of concussion-related lawsuits involving former players, league officials and the NFL Players Association recently commissioned an independent study that identified three helmet models — the Revolution and Revolution Speed, and the DNA Pro, manufactured by Schutt — that supposedly better protected players from violent collisions.

However, the league stopped short of mandating all 32 teams test all three helmets.

“You can't necessarily mandate a guy to use a certain helmet because it takes away from what they're comfortable with,” Harrison said. “A lot guys don't change helmets until a concussion because they're stuck with that helmet. Once they get hit a few times, then they go to the next best thing.

“I'm not too worried about getting a concussion. If you go out there worrying about that, it's probably going to happen. You have (hits) where you're dizzy, things moving, and you see stars and all that, but everybody gets that.”

So far, the new helmet hasn't significantly reduced the number of concussions or head injuries. According to the NFL, there have been 151 reported concussions reported this season — including Clark and Steelers running back Isaac Redman.

Last season, the 150th concussion wasn't recorded until Dec. 5. There were a total of 266 concussions in 2011 — four fewer than reported in 2010.

“I'm going to stay with the same helmet, and I'll be ready to go,” said Redman, who wears the Revolution. “If I were to suffer another concussion like Ryan, then I probably would switch.

“Some guys have been wearing the same helmet since college or high school. It's sad to say, but some won't change until something drastic happens.”

Redman, who underwent a battery of concussion tests after last Sunday's game against Baltimore, passed his concussion test Thursday and is no longer experiencing the headaches he endured Monday.

“You have to understand that what we do isn't safe, really,” said Leftwich, who will sit out with broken ribs. “You would rather a guy break a hand or a wrist — or in my case, a rib — than have a concussion, especially considering what we are finding out about what this game does to the head.”

Ralph N. Paulk is staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rpaulk@tribweb.com.

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