Protective Headgear

Protective Headgear

If there was ever any question remaining about USSF’s current position on the use of soccer-specific protective head gear, that question has been dispelled in recent years as an increasing number of professional women and men show up on televised games wearing commercial head protectors. The most common version is the Full90, which looks almost like a headband. The manufacturer states that it reduces head impact with almost no reduction in either control or the speed in which the ball rebounds.

Studies show that the greatest danger of impact-related injuries in soccer are not ball-to-head, but head-to-head and head-to-goal. The full90 has been accepted at all levels of youth play in the United States and has also been fully approved for use world-wide by FIFA. It is sold online and can also be found at Sunset Soccer and other sporting goods retailers.

NFHS declares the use of headgears for all players at high school level
By Steven Herendeen, Staff Writer

It’s full speed ahead for the Full90 Performance Headguard. In a surprising reversal on Tuesday, the National Federation of High Schools Association declared the 11/2-ounce headguard -- designed by San Diego-based Full90 Sports, Inc. to reduce head impact forces on the soccer field -- can now be used by all players at the high school level.

The move by the NFHS was totally unexpected. The governing body for all high school sports ruled the headgear was illegal and would not be considered again until its January 2004 meeting. That hardline stand abruptly changed Tuesday when Full90, Inc., CEO Jeff Skeen received a fax from Tim Flannery, the NFHS assistant director and liaison to the Soccer Rules Committee.

"Based on the new interpretation by the NFHS, the Full90 Sport padded head band is legal for use in interscholastic matches beginning immediately," Flannery’s fax stated. "The NFHS exercised due diligence over the past 12 months to determine its use for high school play." Flannery did not return calls to his Indianapolis, Ind., office on Tuesday.

Skeen, who actually had the headgear designed after his daughter, Lauren, suffered a third concussion in a high school soccer game last year, was thrilled with the news. "It’s hard for me to contain my happiness," Skeen said. "This is a monumental day in the history of soccer. In five years, it will be common to see people wearing soccer head protection. It’s a great thing, not just for the company but for the players."

The announcement also ended a long, frustrating run for Skeen and proponents of the Full90 Performance Headguard. The piece of equipment seemingly had support from everyone but the NFHS. Some youth, collegiate and professional women’s players had begun using the soft headgear in games. The United States Soccer Federation, which is the national governing body for soccer and recognized by the international governing body FIFA, allows the headgears although they have to be cleared before every game by the head referee.

Some rather big names also endorsed the headgear. Joy Fawcett of the U.S. women’s National Team and the San Diego Spirit is an active spokesperson for the headgear. Two-time men’s Olympic soccer player Kevin Crow, now the chief operating officer for the Women’s United Soccer League, called the $24.95 headgear "an acceptable part of soccer equipment in today’s world."

Full90 laboratory studies indicated the 3/8-inch, cross-linked, high-density polyethylene foam headgear -- designed specifically to protect the forehead and temples -- provided "about 50 percent reduction in typical soccer head impact forces." Tests also showed the headgear did not change the direction or speed of the ball during header plays.

Yet, the NFHS fought acceptance of the headgear by field players for a year, even though it allowed goalies to wear a soft head protector. "Our sports committee is concerned about jumping into this," Flannery said three weeks ago. "(Full90) has done studies, but we don’t believe laboratory tests are valid. We need field testing and that takes time."

At the time, Flannery suggested any ruling would take well more than a year so the NFHS could get extensive information outside of laboratory settings. Said Flannery: "We estimate we would need 24 schools participating with every kid wearing (the headgear) for a year to get enough feedback to (determine) if they have value or not."

So what forced the 180-degree flip by the NFHS? Skeen, who relentlessly pressured the NFHS by contacting numerous media outlets and providing free headgears to soccer camps around the country, thinks he knows. "I think it came down to common sense," he said. "Just like every other law, it came down to them looking at it and saying ’this product can do some good. There are no negatives to wearing it, so why don’t we let this through?’"

He also believes there might be a bigger reason for the turnaround. By refusing to allow the protective headgear, the NFHS could have left itself in a precarious legal situation the next time a high school player suffered a head injury and angry parents decided to sue. "There were no changes in the facts from last week," noted Skeen. "I think (the NFHS) was inspired because they could face lawsuits and other legal problems in the future."  

Reprinted from http://www.timesstar.com/Stories/0,1413,125~11080~1502169,00.html