[mks_dropcap style=”rounded” size=”42″ bg_color=”#666666″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]O[/mks_dropcap]n Thursday, January 29, 2015, the Ohio State men’s lacrosse program held a typical pre-season practice. With snow still piled up on the sidelines from a storm a few days prior and the temperature somewhere in the thirties, the Buckeyes’ man-up and man-down units took the field.
At some point during that man-up/man-down session, one of the team’s defenseman was hit by a shot to the head at close range. Eleven days later, on Monday, February 9, a photo of the STX helmet he was wearing when he took the hit surfaced on Instagram and Twitter.
As one would expect in this day and age, it didn’t take long for the photo to cause serious commotion amongst the sport’s most passionate – and most important – stakeholders. From concerned consumers young and old to frustrated professional lacrosse players and industry professionals, many quickly took to social media to air their grievances about the image.
— Greg Gurenlian (@GregBeast32) February 10, 2015
Manufactured in partnership with Schutt Sports, the Stallion 500 helmet that the OSU player was wearing was introduced by STX last fall. The release was accompanied by test results from competitive analysis of the Cascade R and Warrior Regulator helmets, comparing those models to the new STX helmet.
Since as far back as I can remember (I was born in 1991), Cascade in particular has dominated the market. Connor Wilson, publisher of LaxAllStars.com, recently spoke with the New York Times about Cascade’s roughly 90% market share at the time of STX making the test results public.
The test results STX made public sparked an investigation by NOCSAE, and the Cascade and Warrior models were decertified on the eve of the holiday shopping season.
Within weeks of the decertification news, Cascade introduced a simple solution to modify the current R helmets that was approved by NOCSAE. Consumers must ship their R helmets to Cascade headquarters for the modification to be applied, but once complete, the helmet is re-certified and legal to wear at all levels of play.
Meanwhile, Warrior continued toward a solution and recently announced that it will be replacing the original Regulator with a new and improved Regulator II model. Owners of the original Regulator model may exchange theirs free of charge at any Lacrosse Unlimited store nationwide. The exchange doesn’t have to be for a Warrior brand helmet.
In light of the coverage around the lacrosse helmet decertifications, seeing the photo of the new STX helmet, and hearing a handful of disturbing rumors about status of the player who was hit by the shot, LaxAllStars.com launched its own investigation into the incident at Ohio State.
[mks_icon icon=”fa-search” color=”#bb0000″ type=”fa”] Timeline
Here’s a timeline of our entire investigation into this incident.
› 2:00pm: Image spotted on social media
› 7:00pm: LAS team meeting to discuss
› 10:00pm: Inquires emailed to OSU coaches & SID, STX contacts
› 2:00pm: LAS team meeting to discuss
› 2:30pm: Conference call with CEOs of STX & Schutt
› 3:45pm: Received phone confirmation from OSU
› 3:50pm: Received statement from OSU
› 5:00pm: Issued follow-up questions to STX & Schutt
› 7:00pm: LAS team meeting to discuss
› 10:13am: Responses received from Schutt
› 12:00pm: LAS team meeting to discuss
› 2:30pm: Call with Lantern reporter Molly T.
› 3:38pm: More follow-up questions sent to Schutt
› 5:31pm: Answers received from Schutt
› 8:52pm: LAS team meeting to discuss
› 10:00pm: Finalize draft
› 12:58am: Publish
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Conversations at C-Level
Prior to receiving word back from those who we had reached out to at The Ohio State University, we spoke to Jason Goger, CEO of STX, and Robert Erb, CEO of Schutt Sports, on a conference call Tuesday afternoon. Erb, who was traveling and in London at the time, had been briefed on the situation but he had not yet seen the photo. Meanwhile, Goger of STX was able to shed light on the incident and give us the status of the player who had been hit.
Goger informed us that the player indeed was a defenseman and confirmed that he did get hit by a shot at close range during man-up/man-down. While he could not tell us who the player was, he did tell us that the name being spread across social media was inaccurate.
According to Goger, the shot damaged the helmet but there was no critical injury to the athlete himself. The impact did cause a cut on the player’s head, but it only required brief attention from the athletic trainer.
The player was able to strap on an extra Buckeye helmet that was available and continued participating at practice. He played in Ohio State’s scrimmage against Duke on January 31 as well as the team’s home opener against Detroit on Tuesday.
After finding out the player was okay from Goger, the conversation turned back to the Stallion 500 lacrosse helmet and whether or not the helmet was destroyed by the ball because of some kind of flaw or malfunction in the product.
“I don’t think that the helmet malfunctioned because the kid took the helmet off, put another helmet on and continued to play. I also know that the helmet is in compliance with NOCSAE and I would think that it would be a gross exaggeration to say that helmets never crack,” Erb, CEO of Schutt, explained.
Throughout our conversation, Goger and Erb stood by the Stallion, both mentioning that it may have been a much different – and much worse – outcome had the player been wearing something other than the Stallion 500 to protect his head.
Everyone gets a new STX helmet the next day
It wasn’t until we heard from OSU that we learned about the replacement of all of the team’s outer shells. Here’s the official statement from Ohio State Athletics:
During an Ohio State men’s lacrosse practice Jan. 29, a helmet was broken after it was hit by a ball shot from close range at a high rate of speed. The involved student-athlete was immediately examined by the medical staff for injuries and was able to continue practicing and competing without any interruption. Following the incident, STX, the helmet supplier, immediately replaced the outer shell of all of the team’s helmets and there have been no issues during practices or competitions. Student-athlete safety is of utmost importance both to Ohio State and STX. Helmets used by Ohio State varsity student-athletes in all sports have been approved for player safety by the NOCSAE (National Operating Committee for Standards for Athletic Equipment).
Why the whole team? Why so much damage from a ball?
We followed up with Erb and Goger about the outer shells and what this might mean for other lacrosse players out there in the world who have purchased or received a Stallion 500 helmet. Could this happen to another athlete who wears a Stallion 500?
After the incident occurred at Ohio State, Schutt immediately sent an R&D engineer to Columbus to investigate. At first, when factoring in the temperature at the time, they thought it might have been an issue with the metallic paint used on the Buckeyes’ helmets.
Replacing the team’s helmets was the best way for Schutt to have a chance at figuring out what may have gone wrong. That action also likely provided some peace of mind for the Ohio State players and coaching staff. However, replacing the helmets of one collegiate team does not universally answer and solve the quandary of the broken helmet.
From our conversations with Schutt, their opinion is steadfastly that this was not a helmet malfunction, but rather a perfect storm of unlikely circumstances. Erb explained:
“…we have not been able to replicate the conditions that let to the helmet cracking. It may simply come down to the fact that it was a painted helmet on a cold day struck by a hard ball by a strong collegiate athlete at point-blank range that struck at the edge of one of the vent holes resulting in a crack. In other words, the helmet surrendered itself and protected the athlete from a more serious injury.”
If the player had been wearing anything but the Stallion 500, the result could have been much worse, according to Schutt, and despite the break, the helmet did what it was supposed to do and protected the player from more serious harm.
The future of Stallion 500 lacrosse helmets
There are currently no plans for a recall of the Stallion 500 helmets or an immediate change to the product because a problem has not been diagnosed.
“We are continuing to do lab and field testing with the helmets. We are committed to relentless innovation, so enhancements and improvements are inevitable. We are sharing what we learn with STX and NOCSAE routinely,” Erb said.
The partnership agreement between Schutt and STX, both of which are private companies, is broken down as follows: Schutt designs, develops and manufacturers the helmets while STX handles marketing, sales and distribution. STX serves as the resident lacrosse expert in the relationship.
“If there are good ideas on how to make a product better we’re going to make it better,” added Goger.
STX and Schutt acknowledge that in every aspect of product development there is room for improvement or changes, so STX is openly accepting feedback on how to make the best lacrosse helmet for all who play the game.
The dirty truth about NOCSAE standards
So here we have another could-be scandal from one of the top equipment manufacturers in the sport of lacrosse. Following the decertifying of Cascade and Warrior helmets that put all manufacturers in the spotlight, one would hope those who decide NOCSAE standards are paying attention.
However, in this specific incident at Ohio State and another instance we saw over the weekend, the unique set of circumstances that led to players’ helmets breaking shines new light on a NOCSAE standard, or lack there of, that has given us pause.
The other instance I mention occurred during the UMBC/Johns Hopkins men’s lacrosse game that aired on 02/07/2015. 8:22 minutes into the 3rd quarter, the Retriever’s goalie took a high impact shot straight to the facemask that caused his forehead to bleed and he eventually left the game minutes later. In this case, it was in the 40’s and the player was wearing a Cascade R helmet.
In my own opinion, NOCSAE standards do not call for any testing of the impact of a lacrosse ball hitting a helmet. From my vantage point as a collegiate official, I have always thought this to be odd. I’d recommend testing the impact of a collision between ball and helmet, at close range and distance and from high speeds be a good place to start. Create better helmet testing based on the variables of a lacrosse game.
Another important thing to thing to note, which Erb reminded us about via email earlier today, is that there are currently no NOCSAE standards for extremely cold temperatures. Just consider the impact a frozen, solid rubber lacrosse ball may have at speeds into the 100’s. Whereas effectively officiating the rules and teaching the fundamentals of the game can help prevent helmet-to-helmet contact, we can only do so much to prevent where the ball goes.
“I might suggest that NOCSAE consider a new ball standard, which includes testing at low temperature,” expressed Erb in his last remarks to us.
Player safety is of the utmost importance to the lifespan and popularity of lacrosse. In light of the publicity that concussions are receiving across the sports world, it is the responsibility of every equipment manufacturer to create only the highest caliber products. Hopefully that was the case for STX, Schutt, and the Stallion 500.
Only time will tell. And possibly more cold weather.
Jeff Brunelle and Molly Tavoletti contributed to this report.