Purdue researchers unveil new helmet to limit football concussions

New rules and new helmets are aimed at limiting the risk of concussion among high school football players.

There are new rules and new safety equipment intended to protect high school athletes.

The repeated head-to-head competition of football is blamed for what some say is an epidemic of concussions and other head injuries.

One big hit sent Desmond McLemore to the hospital and then home to recover from a severe concussion. The promising Anderson High School athlete had difficulty walking, concentrating and remembering.

Now, a pair of Purdue researchers have invented new padding and a new helmet designed to prevent similar injuries. Instead of one layer of plastic, there are two, with shock-absorbing cushioning sandwiched between them. The inside of the helmet is also lined with the new padding.

"We have this layer of cushioning on the helmet that's going to compress when the blow occurs, resulting on a lot less vibration on the brain," said co-inventor Tom Talavage.

The energy absorbing combination, the inventors say, reduces the G forces of the impact in half.

"I think we can make this a halfway safe sport if we do that," said co-inventor Eric Nauman. "We can't completely eliminate the possibility of concussions, but we can do a lot."

The unprecedented concern over how we protect our children while they are playing football and other sports is changing not only safety equipment, but also laws and the rules of the game.

Today, the National Federation of State High School Associations announced new football rules. When helmets fall off, opponents are prohibited from tackling, blocking or having any contact with the player. Also, the unprotected player can't continue participating in continuing game action. He must leave the game for at least one play to have himself and helmet checked to determine why it fell off.

"All these products sound great," said IU Health Sports Medicine doctor John Beldea.

But he's skeptical. During the high school football season, Beldea says he sees as many as a dozen concussions a week.

"These technological breakthroughs are nice. I hope they work. I really hope they do work, but I don't have much faith they will decrease concussions," he said.

Hitting - and hitting hard - is, after all, the nature of the game.

The commissioner of Indiana's High School Athletic Association says it will adopt the new football rules. Those Purdue researchers hope to have their new helmet on the market by late summer. There are still manufacturing and certification hurdles to clear.

McLemore's mother says he's back in school but he's quickly exhausted and still working on his short-term memory. But the 16-year-old is making progress, working out and may try out for baseball.