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Cascade R Iroquois Lacrosse Helmet
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Helmetgate Rolls On

With all the hullabaloo surrounding the recent #helmetgate situation we feel it is important to keep everyone updated on the progress, or lack thereof, surrounding the potential re-certification of the R helmet by Cascade and the Regulator helmet by Warrior.

We’re hearing that Cascade could be days away from reaching an agreement with NOCSAE on how to retrofit or fix the R helmet, and they have released a statement (below) to this effect. In the meantime, if you own an R helmet, be sure to register your product with Cascade so you are kept in the loop directly!

We have not seen an updated statement from Warrior on the Regulator helmet, but expect one in the coming days and weeks.

The issue does not seem to impact international teams as the Federation of International Lacrosse rulebook makes no mention of NOCSAE certification, and there are no FIL events for another 229 days. The problem will likely be solved by then.

Cascade Statement: R Helmet NOCSAE Certification

NOCSAE is working closely with us as we develop and test a retrofit to the Cascade R helmet and we are confident a solution will be announced in the coming days. Earlier this week, we had sent technicians to NOCSAE’s testing laboratory to test what we believe to be a viable and simple modification to existing helmets to ensure they comply with the NOCSAE standard.

We have been informed that if we can demonstrate with statistical probability that this modification will meet the standard, NOCSAE will approve the process. If successful, this modification will result in a new model as defined in NOCSAE standards.

We are now working with NOCSAE on the details of that modification, including how it will be rolled out to players and teams currently in possession of the Cascade R helmet. As soon as we have all the details we will immediately communicate the necessary steps to complete the modification.

Thank you for your patience and continued commitment to Cascade during this process. We continue to stand behind the Cascade R helmet and believe this modification will address NOCSAE’s concerns and ensure there will be no further interruption to the sport we all love.

Originally, I believed that the testing failures were due to improperly fit helmets, as I could not imagine that NOCSAE would allow a helmet to be used by the lacrosse playing public for 18 months if it did not meet their standards. As it turns out, NOCSAE does not always test the helmets themselves, and they rely on the manufacturers and independent labs commissioned by the manufacturers when it comes to testing the helmets for certification.

lacrosse_helmet_testing helmetgate

STX tested multiple helmets, some (which were not theirs) failed, and then they published the results. Regardless of what you think of their marketing ploy, it seems to have spurred NOCSAE into action. NOCSAE then bought and tested these helmets themselves, and then revoked the certification of the R and Regulator helmets, by Cascade and Warrior respectively.

The process has been convoluted from the start, and fact-based truth has been hard to come by. At the same time, it seems we have learned a couple of things:

1) NOCSAE should be testing every helmet that goes to market that wants to bear the NOCSAE stamp of approval. To me, that is a very basic safety and standards due diligence item. Manufacturers should test their own helmets BEFORE they go to NOCSAE, and they should supply that info to NOCSAE. Then NOCSAE should test the helmets themselves. THEN it can go to market. Helmets that don’t meet standards should simply not be on the market for 18 months before anything happens.

2) NOCSAE should publish testing numbers for helmets and publicize it. If their purpose is to ensure people’s safety then the people should be informed. That information should be front and center on their website.

And that’s about it. That’s really all I’d feel comfortable saying is true, for certain. But there is something else that popped up in my mind which I can’t seem to shake.

Lacrosse helmets aren’t actually all that safe to begin with. That last sentence is sort of misleading, because I’m not saying that Cascade or Warrior helmets are bad, and even though I haven’t tried one out (still want to though!), I don’t think the STX helmet will be bad either. But lacrosse helmets are really designed to do two things: 1 – prevent skull fractures, 2 – prevent inter-cranial bleeding. And that’s about it. There is nothing there about concussions or much else, and it would be hard for there to be much else. We don’t understand the human head all that well to begin with.

ND/Cuse Game Photos by Tommy Gilligan

How to truly protect it? Collectively, we seem to have little to no idea.

So really, NO helmet in any sport is all that safe. Oftentimes, they literally just protect you from dying, which is obviously good. But preventing other types of injury? Not so much, and that’s true in almost helmeted sport. It’s scary, and I’m glad that people are working to make helmets safer, but the more I looked into things, the more I realized that sport helmets generally aren’t all that effective. Articles and stories from skiing, football, baseball, soccer, and rugby all seemed to back this up. One place they were effective was in bicycling, where helmets are designed to take ONE impact and then be thrown away. Of course in multiple impact crashes, that can go right out the window. And certain studies seem to show that even in biking helmets don’t help that much.

Basically, helmets provide an added thin layer of protection for athletes, but only from certain types of injuries. If someone misses your stick and lightly taps you in the head with their stick, you’ll probably be ok, and you won’t get a little bruise on your head like you would if you weren’t wearing a lid. But if someone really winds up and gives you a full crack, you’re going to feel it a lot like you would if you weren’t wearing a helmet. The big gash won’t be there (good!) and you won’t get golf ball sized bruise on the side of your head (also good!), but you could have a concussion that is just as bad. Your brain still got slammed around after all. Your neck could have been just as hurt, and that impacts your head too. Heck, a helmet could conceivably make your head a bigger target and actually ADD impacts to your head you wouldn’t normally feel. Maybe that check would have missed your head by 1/4 of an inch? Now it hits your helmet, which hits your head. Bingo, added contact.

Now, let me be straight here: I am not arguing that we get rid of helmets in lacrosse. But, I will say that if people are serious about head protection some things definitely need to change.

Here are a couple of other potential issues I see with helmet safety as it currently stands…

Issues Stemming From Helmetgate

There is no shelf life for helmets. Hockey helmets have a weird circular sticker on the back of them with a date on it and certification logo. The helmet is only good through that date. This makes sense. We recondition lacrosse helmets for this very reason. But there is no date on a new lacrosse helmet that says when it needs to be reconditioned. This is a MAJOR oversight. A lacrosse helmet can go from 99 degree temps to 20 degrees and be used hundreds of times in a year and this impacts the quality of the protection which is offered. It just does. It’s called wear and tear. So why don’t lacrosse helmets have a shelf life? Seems like they should.

Bates Wesleyan old school lacrosse

Right now, I’m pretty sure a high school player could put on a reconditioned 15 year old original Sport Helmet and play with it. It’s got the NOCSAE stamp, right? That probably shouldn’t happen. That helmet is probably past its usable life according to the standards. Let’s get less extreme. How about a 4 year old helmet? Is that still safe enough? What about a 2.5 year old helmet? I don’t know, and I don’t know if anyone else truly does either. What about a helmet that a physical FoGo uses? Is that helmet more beat up than the helmet of someone who rides the bench? Probably, but there is nothing done about that.

Head safety seems to have little to do with helmets. It seems in lacrosse and most other sports (and I could be wrong here) that how we play the game matters more than what we wear. Cutting down on slashes and hits to the head will always do more than better helmets can ever do. No impact is better than reduced impact, right? I know that lacrosse helmets are important. As someone who has taken a shot or two off the facemask, I am thankful I have always worn one. But at the same time, I know they are not the safety net we have come to think of them as. I am simply lucky I didn’t suffer more than a brief moment’s of dizziness. I very easily could have been seriously hurt. I have also been hit in the side of the head with a shot while NOT wearing a helmet and literally felt fine. I likely could have died from that, but I didn’t. Again, I was simply lucky.

The problem isn’t with helmets though. I really do think that helmets should be as protective as possible, but the focus needs to be on players playing safe, and without reckless abandon. Keeping their sticks and bodies in check can be an important part of respecting the game, and keeping everyone safe.

End Results From Helmetgate

At the end of the day, I am hopeful for ONE thing, and one thing only: that lacrosse helmets are safer moving forward.

I hope the STX helmet is extremely safe. I hope Cascade and Warrior can fix their helmets so they are once again considered to be very safe, but more than anything, I hope that every manufacturer of lacrosse helmets truly commits to making the safest (NOT the coolest looking) helmet they possibly can. Liability says we need it, so we need it, at least for now.

Duke vs Johns Hopkins mens lacrosse 2014 NCAA quarter final

On the other side of things, I want to see US Lacrosse continue to legislate rule changes that reduce contact to the head. I also want to see college lacrosse continue on its reduced head contact path. I’d even like to see Major League Lacrosse reign in the head to head stuff a bit more!

While helmets and rules can help, the biggest safety issues come from us, the players and coaches. We need to teach our kids to play safe and respect the game. As players we need to do the same. Concussions and head injuries will continue to be a part of lacrosse and sports in general. Better helmets may be able to help, but the biggest change starts with all of us.