Source: The New Yorker
During the 2015 season, St. Thomas players, despite their many injuries, did not suffer a single concussion. Harriott and the school had made preventing head injuries a priority. The team bought Riddell SpeedFlex helmets, which came onto the market in 2014, and cost nearly four hundred dollars apiece. They have a polycarbonate shell, extensive padding, inflatable bladders, and a cutout on the crown that flexes upon impact, which, according to Kivon, “disperses all the pressure.” Last year, Virginia Tech’s Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science gave the helmet its highest safety rating.
At the start of the season, each St. Thomas player takes an exam known as Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing, or Impact. The exam is designed to establish a cognitive baseline; after a suspected concussion, a player is supposed to retake the test, allowing a medical professional to determine whether the athlete requires further assessment. But self-reporting of injuries is inherently unreliable, and no player wants to sit out for a ding. A 2014 study in the Journal of Neurotrauma found that, on average, players reported only one out of twenty-seven incidents in which they “saw stars,” became dizzy, and got a headache. Dwayne Owens, the athletic trainer at St. Thomas, said that he knew players who had intentionally botched their baseline tests. “Their parents might even tell them, ‘Don’t do your best,’ ” he said.
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