Are football helmets safe? Ask local experts in online Q&A today

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Athletes have good reason to be concerned about safety risks while playing contact sports. Concussions and life-altering injuries are becoming more common for both amateur and professional athletes.

In response to this growing concern, Virginia Tech launched a multi-year study on the safety of helmets used by high school football players. They tested 18 of the most popular helmets, ranking them on a scale from 1 to 5. Those providing the most protection scored a 5. Those with the least scored 1.

First Coast News asked Duval County Public Schools for an inventory of helmets used at each school. We averaged the safety score of all helmets in the district at 3.6, which is considered "good" by the study.

We found several schools use one and two star helmets – the lowest safety rating. Those include Ed White, Englewood, Westside (Forrest), Raines, Ribault, Sandalwood and Terry Parker high schools. The study recommends those low ranking helmets be taken off the field.

See ranking of 15 Duval schools, ordered best to worst, in photo gallery below.

Tammie Talley is the Athletic Director at Duval County Public Schools. "We make our purchasing decisions based on these reports and we continue to improve," she said.

"I agree that we need to have a measuring stick," said Larry Roziers, Executive Director of District Athletics in Duval County. "I do agree that numbers and ratings keep us alert to meeting the expectation of our children's safety. I'm confident that the intent is out there for every kid that puts on a helmet, the intent is to make sure they're safe."

Bay Gannon plays football for the Fletcher High School Senators. He was sidelined several years ago after having a concussion on the field. "I don't remember the concussion itself but I remember after," Gannon said.

Gannon says helmets are the most important part of a uniform, and steps need to be taken to make sure kids are as protected as possible. "I definitely want to protect my head more than anything else," Gannon said.

Roziers says the district is trying to remove helmets with the lowest ratings. He says training and coaching isn't included in the study - key factors that add to the safety of helmets.

"When you add those things together, it makes our players safer," Roziers said.

According to a report from USA Today a non-profit group that sets the safety helmet standard -- the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) – cautions that focusing too much on stars can lead to a false sense of security about helmets.

"I don't believe ... it is the proper job of a standards organization to do qualitative assessments or comparison," Mike Oliver, executive director of NOCSAE told USA Today. "Helmet standards around the world are all pass/fail standards based on what are called injury thresholds. So you either meet it or you don't."

Last year, the "best available" helmets, according to a USA Today study, were the Riddell 360 ($374.95), the Rawlings Quantum Plus ($259.99), the Xenith X2 ($235.00) and the Riddell Revolution Speed ($264.99).

After our interview, Talley told First Coast News they are working to phase out one and two star helmets. They'll also continue to update training and monitor more research as it becomes available.

Gannon says all that is critical, "Life after football is way more important."

Related: Ex-Jaguars LB Russell Allen retiring after in-game stroke

Related: NFL offering millions for helmet innovations

Related: Virginia Tech created a system that rates helmet safety, but not everyone agrees with it

Q&A with LOCAL EXPERTS about concussions, head injuries and safety

Knowledge is another line of defense. To answer all your questions about concussions, head injuries and athletic safety, we invited a panel of local experts to blog with us. They can tell us how to recognize the signs of head trauma and how to protect our athletes. They're available beginning Monday at 6 p.m. Just type your question below, then check back for their response.

Click each panelist's name to see bio and photo.

1. Dr. Kevin Kaplan, Jaguars Head Team Physician, JOI

2. Dr. Kenneth Ngo, Brain Injury Medical Director, Brooks Rehabilitation

3. Dr. Howard Weiss, Orthopedic Rehabilitation, Brooks Rehabilitation

4. Michelle Duclos, Sports Medicine Director/Athletic Trainer, JOI

Ask your questions below and FCN will pick the best questions to be answered by our experts.

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