Football helmet safety part 2: Lee County

Author: Sam Smink
Published: Updated:

LEE COUNTY, Fla.- What’s between your child’s head and the ground matters when it comes to preventing concussions on the field. WINK News was the first to investigate the safety of all football helmets at schools in Southwest Florida.

In September we revealed the ratings of helmets used at public schools in Charlotte and Collier counties. Now we have the types of helmets in play in Lee County.

A former Tampa Bay Buccaneer, Earnest Graham spent nine years in the NFL as a running back. Known as a bruiser, he made his fair share of hard hits and got hit hard in return.

The current North Fort Myers football head coach doesn’t think he ever suffered a concussion but says the subject back then was taboo.

“I would have been pulled to the side, you know, would have been look at for precautionary measures, but I never got diagnosed,” said Graham. “Before you kind of go ahead, get right back in the game.”

Graham says times have changed. The discussion over concussions in the sport is at all levels of play including high school.

Researchers at Virginia Tech looked at the role football helmets play in preventing injuries by re-creating the hits players take. What they found was that the design of a helmet can reduce the risk of a concussion. Each helmet received one of six ratings:

5-stars:  best available
4-stars:  very good
3-stars:  good
2-stars:  adequate
1-star:   marginal
NR: not recommended

We spoke to the man in charge of the study Doctor Stefan Duma. He tells us that the basic difference between the helmets is the amount of padding. He also says any helmet rated two stars and below should be replaced.

We took that rating system and looked at all makes and models of helmets at Lee County high schools.

At North Fort Myers where Graham coaches 89 percent of helmets were rated four and five. But we found 15 rated as a one, for marginal. Graham says that is unacceptable.

He says there are more kids than helmets and they will look into switching these out if they’re being used.

There were eight schools in the district with 98 percent of helmets rated four or better. Three schools with 84 percent.

Island Coast had all three stars rated good.

Many of the helmets weren’t rated. Doctor Duma says they didn’t look at helmets older than 2011 but that doesn’t mean they’re unsafe.

We checked with those schools with large numbers of not rated helmets, like Cape Coral High School. They say all of their helmets were purchased brand new in 2011 and 10 new helmets are purchased every year. They’re also reconditioned every year by the manufacturer. That’s the same for all schools.

It doesn’t hurt to ask your child or your child’s coach what helmet they are wearing.

Click here to see your child’s school in Lee County:

Click here to see our report on Charlotte and Collier counties. The helmet ratings for those schools are at the bottom.

Click here for Virginia Tech’s rating report.

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