Editor’s note: In the interest of full disclosure, Cascade is an LAS partner, and STX is not. The author has worn Cascade lacrosse helmets for many years and has never experienced poor head protection. The author also uses STX protective padding by choice, but he has not worn or personally tested an STX lacrosse helmet.
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It can always be tough to promote a new product, and many lacrosse companies have struggled with advertising campaigns in the past. However, I find the approach recently taken by STX to market its new helmet surprisingly strange, and I’m beginning to wonder if this marks a departure from the company’s traditional values.
STX has moved directly into attack ads and other low brow marketing efforts with their new helmet release. For a company that prides itself on quality, history, and tradition, I find these tactics to be extremely confusing.
The Attack on Cascade
On the infographic (pictured to the right), you will notice it says that STX lacrosse helmets all passed the NOCSAE tests with flying colors. Meanwhile, the Cascade helmets failed the tests in seemingly convincing fashion. It is also noted that these results come from testing done at an “independent lab.”
According to the data shared by STX, the Cascade R failed every test for every helmet tested. The Cascade CS failed 38% of the time, on 3 of 8 helmets. I would have assumed the other 5 CS helmets either passed or failed at a lower rate.
But here is the interesting thing… when Cascade Lacrosse sends their helmets out to be tested, the company also sends them to an independent lab. The helmets pass 100% of the tests regularly.
How in the world is this possible? Either these two labs are doing totally different tests, which is highly unlikely (NOCSAE tests come highly standardized), or someone is being a little less than honest with lacrosse consumers.
Cascade and NOCSAE sitting in a tree
I know that Cascade helmets pass NOCSAE because every one sold comes NOCSAE-approved, and that’s been the case for years. In fact, if you want to see just how intertwined those two entities are, check out this excerpt from the Cascade website:
Cascade has been making lacrosse helmets for over 20 years, funded NOCSAE to develop the original standard for lacrosse helmets and continues to fund current studies and projects. You can rest assured that Cascade helmets have always met or exceeded the NOCSAE standard and will always meet or exceed the NOCSAE standard.
Cascade lacrosse helmets are widely used by high school and college programs nationwide, and neither the NCAA or NFHS has ever pushed for a recall of any sort. Insurance companies accept these findings and so does US Lacrosse. Cascade ships out tens of thousands of helmets a year from its headquarters in Liverpool, NY, and very few are sent back.
So what’s going on here, really? Is Cascade and their independent lab lying, or are labs associated with STX do something different in their independent tests? I do know that, during a NOCSAE test, changing the angle at which the helmet is dropped, set on a dummy’s head, tightened, fit, or impacted can skew results noticeably.
Passing NOCSAE Standards
Imagine that you place any lacrosse helmet on your head backwards. It would be on your head, but would it protect you? Nope, not one bit.
Let’s get less extreme. Say you put the helmet on forward, but you tilted it up way too much or way too little. One option would cover your eyes with the visor. The other option would leave your entire chin exposed. Neither would provide great protection. The helmet, in either position, would and should fail safety tests.
Now imagine you’ve only slightly skewed the tilt factor, maybe by an inch or so… couldn’t this small adjustment still make a difference? Wouldn’t looking through the second bar still expose your chin? Wouldn’t a low riding helmet give you a better chance at a broken nose? Yes, yes, and yes.
Improper fitting can be a helmet killer.
STX’s independent test results
So how were the helmets tested? See below from STX’s own testing document:
The helmets were fitted on instrumented headforms using the fitting instructions provided by the manufacturer and dropped at specified velocities and specified helmet locations onto a test pad. The severity of the impact to the headform on each drop was measured and recorded from the instrumented headform. See Section 7 of the Tab 2 standard performance specification.
Now, if you look at Cascade’s own helmet manual, you may notice that the company updated it’s “Helmet Fit” section of the booklet with a new image recently. It was added to remove any doubt as to how the helmet should fit and sit on a human head.
This image was not included in Cascade’s manual when the STX lab testing was done. It was only added in the last few weeks.
To me, it is 100% believable that STX did use an independent lab (in this case they actually used two labs). It also makes complete sense that their co-branded Schutt helmets passed all the tests. But what doesn’t make sense is the Cascade helmets suddenly not passing tests they have already passed year after year, just because they were tested in a different lab…
Either the labs that either Cascade or STX use are lying, or something else had to have been changed. And I don’t believe that either lab is lying.
My guess here is that Cascade helmets pass the NOCSAE tests just fine when fitted correctly on dummies, because that’s what has been reported for years. I would also venture to guess that when a Cascade helmet is improperly fitted on a dummy’s head, it will fail NOCSAE tests. Finally, I would argue that ANY helmet which has been improperly fitted will fail NOCSAE tests.
Reading deeper into STX’s independent test results, you’ll find that the new Warrior Regulator helmets were also tested by STX, but those results were not shared publicly. STX also offers a Stallion 100 helmet, for youth players, and those test results were not offered. One of the testing firms also specifically blamed the fit system on the Cascade R as the reason for it failing, but they did not clarify if the helmet was refitted after an initial impact was made, or how show it sat on the headform to start.
I do not believe that Cascade’s independent lab has been lying to NOCSAE for all these years. I also don’t believe that STX’s independent lab is lying about their results, but I do think that something funky and weird went on during the STX helmet testing comparison. Helmets don’t just suddenly fail the same tests they had recently passed.
If STX were using this as a supplemental push to a main marketing campaign, I’d probably let it go, but seeing as it’s front and center under the tagline, “The Data Speaks For Itself,” I felt it had to be further investigated.
I can understand lacrosse companies wanting to show off their product in attractive ways, but when it comes with grandiose statements of superiority, there is going to be push back and disbelief.
I just don’t understand how the most protective helmet in lacrosse for years can all of a sudden fail all the NOCSAE tests it had previously passed. Either STX needs to provide more information, or we need to take their claims with a grain of salt, because we’ve all used Cascade helmets, and we know, from real life experience, that they tend to work well.
Cascade or STX (or even one of the labs) actually has a great opportunity here, and that is to create a video of their helmets being tested and put that up online for all to see. Heck, they can put up a video of BOTH helmets being tested, and then we can see what’s really going on here.
Right now, we have at least three labs doing the same tests and coming up with end results on opposite ends of a spectrum. It must be a byproduct of dishonesty or a difference in testing methodology, that much is for sure.
Early marketing of the STX lacrosse helmet
Being somewhat of an equipment tester in the lacrosse industry, I’ve been asking STX for a helmet to check out for months now. My requests have been rebuffed, but they have sent out plenty of helmets to retailers and even some high schools.
So, while I can’t say for sure that the new STX lacrosse helmet is any good, I can tell you it actually looks pretty solid. The general feedback I’ve heard from people who have worn one goes something like this: “The helmet is okay, better than I expected, but it’s also kind of heavy.”
In addition to the Stallion 500 helmet currently on display on the STX website, retailers will also begin carrying a Stallion 100 model for youth lacrosse players this Winter.
My real beef is not with the product(s) in any way. I really cannot judge a product without first-hand experience, but I can judge a marketing approach. And to me, this one raises some serious questions.
Talk up your product, and be proud of what you create. I’m all for that! But when I see you throw in the element of chopping your main competitor down in such a small market, it makes me start to wonder if something else is going on behind the scenes.
Good helmets are good for the game
Don’t get me wrong. I hope the STX lacrosse helmet design is totally protective and gives lacrosse players another couple of excellent options for head protection. Good helmets are good for the game. However, I also hope that Cascade provides updated independent lab testing to consumers so we get both sides of the story here.
I don’t think this is the last we’ll hear about this issue from either company. The lacrosse helmet wars may only be getting off the ground now. My hope for the future is that lacrosse players get great protection, and maybe this new competition will help to elevate the game’s technology further once we get past the initial brand sniping.
I reached out to STX and Cascade for this story but neither company would go on the record about this issue. Research was done using Cascade’s website, STX’s website, the NOCSAE website and testing manual, as well as through countless discussions with industry insiders and concussion experts.