Study: Modern football helmets no safer than vintage leather helmets

FootballHealthRoger Staubach

The golden age of professional football and those old leather helmets--they just didn't look like they offered much protection.

Researchers wondered how they would stack up against today's fancy new helmets so they performed impact tests on both.

They tested all around the helmets and to their surprise the head injury metrics were virtually the same.

"This is what was worn by Roger Staubach back in the heyday," Baylor-Irving Dr. Bryan Wasson said while he compared a 1970's helmet to a current day helmet--which is larger and has much more padding.

Dr. Wasson said today's helmets are better at preventing death--but not much better at preventing concussion.

"The helmets back in the day were more compliant allowing the force then to be diffused into the leather and the structure of the leather," Dr. Wasson said. "The (leather) helmet will take the impact as opposed to a hard helmet where the impact will basically force the forces to be absorbed by the brain and the head itself."

Just as Trey Moore who plays quarterback, linebacker and free safety at Faith Christian High School in Grapevine, TX where he suffered an early season concussion.

"The running back went out for a toss and I went out to tackle him," Trey recalled. "I hit him low, the top of my head went straight into his knee. I don't really remember much after that." He missed one game.

Researchers said today's helmets are designed to protect the head from high severity impact injuries but they don't do as well when it comes to protecting against near concussive and sub-concussive impacts.

Trey's mom Joy is stunned.

"You hope that they do get better and you put your kids on the field thinking you are putting them with the most protective equipment that they make so this is very surprising," Joy said.

Dr. Wasson said new designs and materials may be on the horizon to make a better helmet.

As for Trey--even with all that plastic he no longer feels invincible.

"I would not have led with my head if I didn't have a facemask or feel as protected," Trey said.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times