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Feb 10, 2013

What are Helmets Doing to Reduce the Risk of Concussions?

Name of helmet source changed to protect interests involved

EAST LANSING, MICH - Football and concussions have become interlinked with each other to the point that one cannot be talked about without the other. With increased testing, makers of football helmets have taken it upon themselves to help reduce concussions caused during the game.

The rise of brain injuries, especially concussions, in sports has been linked to mental problems for athletes later in life. Deaths of athletes such as Junior Seau and Chris Henry have elevated the risks associated with concussions to near epidemic levels and every level of sport from Pop Warner to the National Football League are taking concussions seriously.

Henry, who was a receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals, died when he fell off a truck in 2009. He had his brain examined after his death and the findings were alarming. It was determined that Henry, 26, had a brain that could have belonged to a man in his seventies and showed that Henry had developed chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

This brain disease has been found, not only in Henry, but in the brains of multiple other retired NFL players, which has had to the NFL placing increased importance on the reduction of concussions and other brain trauma to their players.

Inside the testing process

Each year, researchers at Virginia Tech University and Wake Forest University work together to test the latest helmets on their ability to sustain impacts and reduce concussions. In 2011, there was only one helmet that received a five-star rating from the Virginia Tech study, it was the Riddell Revo Speed helmet. The 2012 tests saw two more helmets added to the five-star rating, the new Riddell 360 and Rawlings Quantum Plus.
Riddell Sports is one of the leading makers of helmets, being named the official helmet of the National Football League, and has created two helmets that have been named some of the safest available. Both the Revo Speed and the new 360 helmets received a Summation of Tests for the Analysis of Risk, or STAR, rating of less than .30, making them the best helmets available to keep athletes safe.

The full results of the helmets tested in the Virginia Tech Helmet survey can be found here. In these tests the Riddell 360, Riddell Revo Speed and Rawlings Quantum Plus scored the highest.

Testing at Virginia Tech puts each helmet through its rigors. To test a helmet, the researchers take three of the same type of helmet and subject each to 120 impacts and measure how it performs in each unique impact. Impacts are located on the top, side, front and rear of the helmet in addition to drop tests where the helmet is dropped from various heights.

The best performing helmet in the latest Virginia Tech study was the Riddell 360. The 360 was released in 2012 by Riddell and has quickly become a favorite with football teams from high school to college and even the NFL. It was announced prior to the beginning of the 2012 season that the entire University of Iowa football team would wear the 360 helmet because of its safety rating.

“A lot of stock is placed in the Virginia Tech tests, any information that can be gathered is good,” said Eric Thompson, a helmet salesman. “Riddell is the only manufacturer that independently tests their helmets for side impacts, something that is not required when making a helmet.”

What makes the Riddell 360 so different?

What makes the 360 score almost 60 points better than the other Riddell helmet in the Virginia Tech study? There is a lot that goes into one of these helmets, much of which goes unseen by anyone outside of the player and the trainer.

The difference that most people will notice about the 360 is the more pronounced vents along the crown of the helmet, which Riddell says help to keep the player cooler during games.

There is more to the vents than just cooling the athlete says Thompson.

“With the vents it creates more curves on the helmet, and with more curves there is less flat space on the helmet where force can be more easily transferred to the skull,” Thompson said.

Additionally, the new shape to the rear of the helmet is more than cosmetic, it serves to cradle the back of the head and help to reduce whiplash after sustaining an impact to the front of the helmet.

“The facemask on Riddell helmets is unique,” Thompson said. “It actually flexes with the impact to help try to disperse the energy outward and not into the player’s skull.”

One of the most unique features of the Riddell 360 helmet is the padding. Immediately noticeable is the energy managing foam that is fitted to the player’s head and helps to cushion any impact the helmet sustains. The interior of the helmet is actually independent of the outer shell, separated by an inflatable membrane that extends to the jaw line, that when inflated serves to stop the wearer’s head from moving within the helmet during an impact.

“The inflatable portion of the helmets help to anchor them to the player’s head and prevent the head from rotating after an impact,” Thompson said. “The offset between the shell and the skull is important in the helmet because the more space there is, the less the concussion risk is.”

Impact on high schools

Each year, the Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings researchers test 15 different helmets; in 2012 10 of the helmets tested received a four or five star rating. Any helmet that receives a four star or higher rating is recommended by Virginia Tech and anything lower is discouraged. Of the 15 helmets tested, three finished with a two-star or lower rating, and all three of those helmets have been removed from the market.

With the Riddell 360 costing $374.95 there could be issues with smaller colleges or youth programs that are not able to afford the type of helmets that would keep their participants the safest, but Thompson says that while it may be a lot of money, ultimately it is worth it.

The cost is something that several Lansing-area athletic trainers have expressed concern over, notably Lansing Waverly athletic trainer Rich Kieft. Kieft expressed that while newer helmets would be nice, his school cannot afford them and went on to say that even the best helmet couldn’t stop a concussion.

“We’re using six year old helmets out here,” Kieft said. “We try to get new helmets in as often as we can, but that’s not always possible. Honestly, a helmet won’t do anything for you, these kids need to learn not to lead into a tackle with the top of their head.”

The Michigan High School Athletic Association also places weight on reducing concussions, but shares Kieft’s opinion that helmets cannot fully stop all concussions from happening. In the announcements that the MHSAA has announcers read during football games the importance of concussions is evident.

“If you get your bell rung during a game, you’ve probably sustained a concussion,” the script reads. “While well-fitted equipment is important; helmets and other headgear only prevent cracked heads and mouth guards only prevent cracked teeth.”

Concussions and the brain damage that they cause have become important and interlinked with football, the importance of the improvement of helmet technology has never been more important. With varying opinions on how to prevent future concussions, the only thing that can help protect athletes in any situation is a safer helmet.

Nov 14, 2012

Sports Psychology And The Spartans

Image Courtesy of MLive.com


Pressure effects all athletes. The pressures to succeed, win, and set an example are magnified for division one athletes. Student-athletes are balancing their academic course loads and athletic engagements (some argue that certain division one athletes get out of academic assignments, but that is a discussion for another time). It mentally can weigh down a young athlete. MSU has implemented the use of a sports psychologist to assist their coaches and athletes throughout their grueling seasons.
Professor Lionel Rosen of MSU's Psychiatry department has been called to aid the Spartan athletes and coaches during these stressful times. Rosen has been an MSU professor since 1970. Rosen is frequently visited by the Spartan football team. This year MSU was predicted to be a Rose Bowl contender. The Spartans now find themselves sitting at a mediocre 5-5 record. They had lofty expectations and are now just looking to salvage the season with a bowl bid and win.
Junior quarterback and first year starter Andrew Maxwell has praised Rosen in aiding him and his teammates during this tumultuous season. Maxwell has received much criticism and flack after taking over for Kirk Cousins. By no means is it easy to replace a leader like Cousins. Being the starting quarterback of a Big Ten team comes with lots of responsibilities. Although he has not performed as well as expected, Maxwell has been productive at times. To keep his sanity and not crack under the pressure he seeks the help of Rosen. Maxwell had this to say in an interview with the Detroit Free Press:
"I've met with him (Rosen) numerous times. I know a lot of players on our team have met with him numerous times. He just brings a different perspective, because he's not in the program everyday, and he's able to look at it from an outside perspective and a more cerebral perspective and put things in a way you've never thought about before."
It is beyond beneficial for a team like the Spartans to have a Psychologist like Rosen. It is deflating and demoralizing to not live up to outside expectations, however justification and support is offered from a psychologist. People will look for areas of blame, but someone like Rosen can help players realize their own mistakes from a different angle. At the end of the day, all athletes are people like you and me. They have feelings and those can effect how they practice and play
From a recruiting standpoint, this is a source of leverage for MSU. The recruitment process tends to be a family decision. Families want to ensure that their child will be loved and cared as they were at home. An athletes collegiate team becomes their new family. It is hard enough to detach yourself from home and relationships you built up to the point of recruitment. By offering a team psychologist, MSU offers a security blanket for blossoming athletes to turn to.
All sports are multi-faceted when it comes to emotion. Without emotion sports lack purpose. Athletes are filled with joy, anger, grief, and desire. A sports psychologist like Rosen can channel the needed emotions for success on and off the field. In the case of collegiate athletes, fans need to understand that they have the same emotions any other 18 to 22 year old would have. Imagine those emotions being magnified and sometimes patronized due to the pressures of playing for a major division one program.
Everyone needs an outlet, and every school should cherish their athletes. They are major investments that solidify and exemplify major learning institutions (a majority of a school's standing is based on the regular student body... they deserve proper care and attention from the university as well). It is only beneficial to have a team psychologist. If the funds are in line, a school should take the time to invest in a team psychologist. Michigan State has led the way and has once again shown that they are a world class institution of higher learning.

Sep 24, 2012

ESPN's College Gameday Visits East Lansing This Week


From: ESPN.com

By: Connor Wilton
@ConnorJayWilton

ESPN's College Gameday is returning to East Lansing this week for the highly-anticipated Big Ten opener between the 20th ranked Michigan State Spartans and the 14th ranked, undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes.

The Spartans have struggled mightily on offense their last two games managing to score only 2 TDs in that same span. Ohio State comes into the game 4-0 and are currently the highest ranked Big Ten team. However, Ohio State has yet to play a road game and really haven't played a quality opponent so far.

Gameday is always a fantastic experience for the fans. I went last year and it was one of the coolest sports experiences I've ever had. The atmosphere is electric and I'm sure the Spartan fans will be extremely energetic once again.

Also, I think everyone remembers what ensued the last time Gameday came to East Lansing... Rocket

Sep 22, 2012

Spartans receiving corps to blame for poor performances

Via Lansing State Journal
By Sean Gagnier

EAST LANSING- Some blame for the Spartans loss to Notre Dame definitely should be heaped on QB Andrew Maxwell, he locked onto receivers and made some poor throws, but as the Spartans game with Eastern Michigan showed, it's the receivers who are running this team into the ground.

During the game with Notre Dame coach Mark Dantonio said he grew impatient of waiting for the run game to get going and instead went to the passing game, which due to the incredibly poor play of the receiving corps cost Michigan State the game.

Maxwell didn't look great against Notre Dame, but he certainly wasn't as bad as the numbers implied, his receivers dropped 10, yes 10, passes. Last checked, receivers were supposed to actually catch the ball. But apparently, Bennie Fowler, Tony Lippett and DeAnthony Arnett didn't get that memo.

In the game against Eastern Michigan, Spartan receivers dropped another five passes. Let's say that again. Against an 0-3 team from the M.A.C. Spartan receivers found it difficult to catch anything more than a cold. Maxwell had improved from Notre Dame, he didn't lock onto receivers and attempted to spread the ball around in the passing game. But when it became obvious that his receivers didn't feel the need to catch anything thrown near them, Maxwell went to his safety blanket in Dion Sims.

Sims racked up more than 100 yards receiving against Eastern, and due to the poor play, again, of the receivers Michigan State was forced to give the ball to LeVeon Bell 32 times, which to his credit he turned into more than 250 yards of offense.

Right now, this Spartans offense consists of Bell getting the ball and the occasional play-action pass to Sims. That's not good enough to beat any Big Ten team. Hell, it was barely enough to beat Eastern Michigan. When your offense goes into halftime against a team from the MAC, they damn well better have more than three points.

Something needs to be done about the receivers at Michigan State, whether it be submersing their gloves in super glue prior to the game or setting them in front of a pitching machine and having them catch passes for hours at a time. If the Spartans go into B1G play  with nothing more than Bell and Sims, there is no way they can win much of anything, regardless of how well their defense plays.

Sep 16, 2012

Michigan State vs Notre Dame: My Thoughts

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

By: Connor Wilton
@ConnorJayWilton

What just happened? I think that's the phrase a lot of Michigan State fans were saying after their dreadful performance against Notre Dame last night. Notre Dame dominated in every aspect of the game, defeating the Spartans 20-3. The loss was the first home defeat for the Spartans since 2009 where they fell to Iowa on the final play.

There are several people/aspects of the game you could criticize for that performance last night, but I think Notre Dame is just a better football team, plain and simple. This was the first true test for either team of the year. They both beat up on terrible teams in Navy and CMU, and then squeaked by against decent teams in Boise State and Purdue at home. With all the talk about MSU's fantastic front 7, no mentioned anything about Notre Dame's which is just as good if not better, than the Spartans. Manti Te'o is the best ILB in college football and proved it again yesterday. They prevented big gains from the MSU running game and constantly harassed Maxwell, sacking him 4 times.

The one thing that really confused/annoyed me this game was the play-calling from OC Dan Roushar. I thought he gave Maxwell no chance to spread the field in any way. The play-calling consisted of dump offs to Bell and quick slants to the receivers. They never took any shots down field or deep over the middle. Now, this might not necessarily be Roushar's fault, it could result from a lack of confidence from Maxwell.  There were drops from the WRs again as well which certainty did not help Maxwell, but to throw the ball 45 times in a game and only gain 187 yards is horrendous.

Unfortunately, I could go on and on about how terrible MSU played, but there is no point. After the way the schedule was setting up, you could hear some MSU fans begin to whisper talks about a potential undefeated season. I, for one, thought it was possible but was worried about this ND game. It was pretty clear last night that Michigan State is by no means that good of a football team.  Once again, give credit to Notre Dame. ND have tons of talent and could be in a the midst of a special season.

As disappointing and terrible the Spartan performance was last night, the Spartans need to realize what's still at stake. The goal is to win the Big Ten Championship and play in the Rose Bowl, and that goal was not affected one bit last night.

Sep 11, 2012

Notre Dame/Michigan State Preview: Game of the Century Part 2?

Will MSU win on a trick play, or runaway with an easy victory?
Courtesy of: doublecoveragefootball.com
By Blain Bradley


The stage is set for a showdown at Spartan Stadium on September 15th. The 10th ranked Spartans will face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who after a close win against Purdue, earned a #20 ranking in the AP Top 25 Polls. The game has huge BCS implications. Both teams are seeking post-season bids in major bowl games, and with a game like this they'll have their chance to make some noise. 

Notre Dame returns star running back Cierre Wood. Wood was suspended for the first two games due to a violation of team rules. Wood is an elusive runner who can cause frustration for the Spartans. Wood was considered a dark-horse Heisman candidate prior to his suspension. Wood is currently on thin ice with the Fighting Irish fans. Fighting Irish Faithful were relying on wood to be a leader. They expect nothing less than a huge game from him. 

The Spartans will counter the Fighting Irish with their own Heisman hopeful, Le'Veon Bell. Last week against Central Michigan Bell carried the ball 18 times for 70 yards (3.8 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. Bell had an absolute monster game in the opener against Boise State. Bell's most eye-popping statistic of the season is his yards per carry average, which currently sits at 4.5. Bell can chip away at the Notre Dame defense. He is the rock that holds the Spartan offense. The Notre Dame rush defense is currently allowing runners to amass 3.41 yards a carry. Bell will challenge the tenacious defense and look to make big plays. 

Irish quarterback Everett Golson has looked solid in his first two outings. He was methodical against Navy, however he suffered a thumb injury in the Purdue game that forced him to leave early (before leaving the game Golson completed 21 out of 31 passes for 289 yards and a touchdown). According to insiders at CBS, Golson is "expected to start this game." This is going to be Golson's biggest test to date. He will face a stellar Spartan defense that will look to pressure him constantly. Golson was sacked five times in the Purdue game. The Spartan pass rush can finally shine against a weak pass protection.

Spartan fans will be watching quarterback Andrew Maxwell intently. Maxwell was a little shaky in his first start against Boise State. Coach Dantonio changed the game plan up against Central Michigan. He limited Le'Veon Bell's carries, and allowed Maxwell to throw the ball around. Maxwell looked poised against Central. He threw 31 passes, completing 20 of them for 275 yards and two touchdowns. At times Maxwell looked nervous, often overthrowing receivers. He definitely has the arm strength needed to contend in the Big Ten, he just needs to work on finesse. 

The game also has historical value to it. Notre Dame and Michigan State have been heated rivals since 1897. The Spartans and Fighting Irish duke it out in the Battle for the Megaphone. In 1966 the rivalry escalated to new heights in a game that was dubbed "The Game of the Century." The 9-0 Spartans were ranked #2 in the polls, while the Fighting Irish (who were 8-0) entered the game at #1. The Spartans were the defending national champions. The game ended in a 10-10 tie (the Irish elected not to make an endzone attempt) which led to both teams being crowned national champions.

The rivalry has grown even bigger in recent years. Two years ago, Coach Dantonio stunned the college football world when he called a "Little Giants" trick play in overtime to take down the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame got revenge by solidly defeating the Irish in their next showdown. 

Will Saturday night's game rival past MSU/Notre Dame games? Will the Spartans pull off another "Little Giants" play to take down Notre Dame? Will it be the new "Game of the Century"? Fans will have to tune in to ABC on September 15th at 8 P.M. to find out. 

FINAL PREDICTION
MSU 20
ND 10
The Spartans will prove to be the more physical team, handling Notre Dame on both sides of the ball. Andrew Maxwell will look much more composed than he did against Boise State, and Le'Veon Bell will continue to score when in the red-zone. The Fighting Irish defense has not faced an offense with raw power and talent like Michigan State's. Irish quarterback Everett Golson will cause early headaches for the Spartans, however the Spartans will tighten the screws by halftime. 

Sep 9, 2012

Michigan State vs Central Michigan: My Thoughts

Photo From: mlive.com

By: Connor Wilton
@ConnorJayWilton

The Spartans continued their winning ways this season with a dominating performance Saturday afternoon vs Central Michigan. The Spartans scored early and often en route to a 41-7 victory. MSU was very impressive on both offense and defense, albeit against an inferior team.

While several players played great for the Spartans saturday, 3 players really stood out to me.

Andrew Maxwell

Maxwell appeared to be much more comfortable yesterday than he was last Friday against Boise State. He had a few shaky throws at first, but settled down nicely and threw for 275 yards with a pair of TDs. I, as well as many State fans have emphasized how important Maxwell is to the Spartans this year, and this performance was a big step in the right direction.

Bennie Fowler

After a very disappointing performance from the Spartan WRs last week, Bennie Fowler emerged as a potential No. 1 WR for  Maxwell and the passing game yesterday. Fowler had 8 receptions for 99 yards and a TD and was clearly the best WR on the field. Someone is going to need to step up at the WR position for the Spartans to have success through the air this year, and Fowler appears poised to take it.

William Gholston 

I was rather critical of William Gholston's performance against Boise State, but Gholston bounced back nicely yesterday against Central. Gholston harassed Central early and often and registered his first sack of the season, to go along with 7 tackles.  If Gholston continues to play the way he did yesterday, the Spartan defense will continue to suffocate defenses.

It was a very encouraging performance from the Spartans yesterday. I understand they were playing a very inferior Central Michigan team, but great teams blowout bad teams, and thats what State did yesterday.