Some of the top college football programs in the country are using Guardian Caps in practice settings, but the product is most popular amongst high schools.
There are 150 college programs using Guardian Caps, but 1,500 high schools are currently using them, but that is not the case for prep teams in South Dakota.
Much of the reluctance for Guardian Caps not only comes from the cost of $45 per player, but because the National Operating Committee for Standards in Athletic Equipment has not approved them, resulting in the South Dakota High School Activities Association banning their use.
“We’ve taken the position that they are not legal for use in competition,” SDHSAA Assistant Executive Director John Krogstrand said. “There’s not conclusive data. There’s a disagreement as to what effects it may or may not have on play.”
The National Federation of State High School Associations has allowed individual states to determine legal use in games. However, because helmets are tested without the removable cap, manufacturers void the warranty if an injury occurs while a foreign product is attached to the helmet.
In addition to the soft and slick exterior, Guardian Caps are attached with four straps that allow it shift on impact. Shifting allows energy to be taken in a different direction and the player’s head remains more still.
The NCAA and NAIA have not sanctioned Guardian Caps for game use, but Guardian Sports Vice President of Sales Matt Simonds says nearly 50 high schools wear them in games throughout the country.
One of the stances of the SDHSAA is a belief that if players were to use them in games -- where a 2012 study by the American Journal of Sports Medicine claimed two-thirds of concussions occur -- they will be more likely to play in an unsafe manner because they feel protected.
“There’s no helmet, no device that can prevent a concussion,” Krogstrand said. “The research side has basically shown that there is cause for concern that student-athletes, when wearing those devices, become more reckless and they put themselves in a position to do more harm or injury to themselves or to other student-athletes.”
Mark Kelso had an eight-year career as an NFL safety from 1986 to 1993 and played four Super Bowls. He also spent time as a high school football coach and athletic director, but he is most famous for wearing a ProCap -- one of the predecessors of Guardian Caps -- after suffering four concussions in two seasons.
He is now an advocate for Guardian Caps and has worked with the company over the years, but does not believe that players are more willing to play dangerously while wearing a Guardian Cap. Instead, he believes players should be consistently taught proper tackling techniques without going to the ground.
“It’s a hollow argument,” Kelso said. “Will they feel safer? Perhaps. They should tackle differently than they do now, because they should be using the technique, where they’re removing the possibility of contact to the head. They need to be trained, because that technique just came to the surface in the last few years.”
Some area high schools -- including Mitchell High School -- have looked into Guardian Caps, but did not purchase them because of a lack of conclusiveness on positive effects, but Simonds says the argument spins the other way as well.
“One of the things we’ve struggled with research-wise is defining an injury,” Simonds said. “There’s still a lot of guess-work in terms of what’s diagnosed and how it’s diagnosed. We haven’t seen a rash of injuries just because it’s the first week and they’ve been practicing with them.”