Don't be surprised this football season if you spot some helmets that seem to have a giant Band-Aid on top. It's a plastic-foam cushion called ProCap that helps reduce the risk of concussions when head-on collisions occur.
Developed by Protective Sports Equipment Inc. in Erie, Pa., the exterior helmet pads were introduced in 1989. But while ProCaps are being used by more than 1,000 high school and college players--and even a couple of pros--the pads' effectiveness has never been proved. Now, researchers at Pennsylvania State University's Biomechanics Laboratory have found hard evidence that ProCaps work: Tests show that the $40 polyurethane pad softens bell-ringing jolts by about 20%, says lab director Richard C. Nelson. He adds that more tests should be run to determine whether the pad contributes to neck injuries. Still, the company expects the Penn State results to coax more teams into trying ProCaps.