Local 2 Investigates: Sports helmet rankings

Investigative Reporter Jace Larson traveled to Virginia to see the testing and reveal the results.

By Jace Larson - Investigative Reporter, Aaron Wische - Senior Executive Producer, Mary Cuervo

HOUSTON - Helmets are the first line of defense against a concussion on the football field. And, Local 2 Investigates just got the results of new tests, ranking those helmets on how they protect your children.

Investigative Reporter Jace Larson traveled to Virginia to see the testing and reveal the results.

It's the first of its kind testing, occurring at Virginia Tech University. The tests rank helmets on their ability to protect players.

The test has multiple phases, including in-lab testing and real world scenarios on the practice field.

Every hit that players take on the field is logged through a sensor and recorded on a computer.

"We understand how many times they are going to get hit in the head and the course of a season and what direction," explained Stefan Duma with VT/WFU School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences.

Practice data is combined with lab data to create a star ranking system for players and parents.

"The differences between the upper end, five star (rating) and the lower end, one star (rating) are dramatic," Duma said.

The testing data showed that the overall best helmet currently available to the public is the Riddell Revolution Speed, which earned the only "5-star" rating.  The next category includes five very good performing helmets that were all given a "4-star" rating, including the Schutt ION 4D, Schutt DNA Pro+, Xenith X1, Riddell Revolution, and Riddell Revolution IQ.

The better helmets often have two or three grades of foam protection.

Raking near the bottom of the safety list was the Riddell VSR4, which was the second lowest rated helmet, receiving a marginal "1-star" rating. Virginia Tech researchers also found the Schutte Air Advantage ranked on the lower end.

Although the Riddell VSR4 is currently being used by collegiate and NFL players, it is not currently sold to the public.

Dr. Gunnar Brolinson, chair of Sports Medicine at Virginia Tech, demonstrated the limitations of the Riddell VSR4 helmet.

"This is the VSR4. You can see the smaller helmet and smaller padding and then, in the not recommended you can see this is just a rigid piece of foam," Brolinson explained.

We found many schools in the Houston area use 4- and 5-star helmets, but there are some that helmets that test poorly, being used on football teams.

You might be wondering about the cost of the higher ranked helmets. Virginia Tech researchers found overall, the cost of the helmet showed little correlation to the relative protection offered by it. All helmets ranged from $159 to $299. Interestingly, the Schutt DNA Pro + was one of the cheapest helmets at $169.95, but received a higher 4-star rating.

The researchers at Virginia Tech hope Houstonians look at the ratings and ask questions about what helmets teens are wearing while playing at school.

For a complete list of the ratings, click here.

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