Coming to a Field Near You: The Solution to CTE

Tragic events can lead to some of the best innovations. Almost every safety feature on a vehicle can be derived from some sort of injury during an accident. Diseases, like cancer and small pox, have hurt and killed countless individuals but have also lead to greater research, vaccines, and treatments. And now we have a new source of innovation that comes from tragedy: football helmets.

A major topic of conversation over the past five years in particular has been the long-term health effects from playing football. It is a violent sport where a collision occurs on every play. The NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell has been greatly scrutinized for hiding findings on concussion research that could have saved the lives of numerous current and former players, as well as provide long-term health benefits to assist those affected by chronic traumatic encephalopathy, better known as CTE. The league has put better protocols in place to identify concussions when they happen during play, though these are a long way from being perfect, in addition to helping former players deal with the daily struggles they go though by providing financial compensation. All of this is great, but the biggest question remained: how can the NFL prevent these injuries from happening in the first place? Enter VICIS.

VICIS is a sports equipment company based out of Seattle, Washington, and founded by neurosurgeon Sam Browd, engineering professor Per Reinhall, and Dave Marver, former CEO of Cardiac Science Corporation. Their goal was simple: create a football helmet that would reduce concussions. With their research and help from current and former players came the design for the ZERO1.

Current helmets by Schutt and Riddell, who account for 90% of football helmet sales, consist of a hard outer shell and padding on the inside for the player’s protection. The problem is that when contact is made the energy from the blow goes straight to the player, which leads to head and neck injuries. Most designs up until recently consisted of putting an outer shell on top of the helmet, but almost no player wore it because of one reason or another.

VICIS decided to take the dated helmet model and designed a helmet that would crumple like a car’s bumper upon impact. Below you can see a video provided by VICIS showing how their design works.

The helmet has been picked up by 25 of the 32 NFL teams as well as about 20 college programs and will be rolled out during spring practices this year, though it is not known how many will actually be worn. In terms of safety, VICIS is far better than it’s competitors. 33 helmets were tested by the NFL, including 23 from Riddell and Schutt, and the VICIS ZERO1 finished first among its competitors, showing that this is the safest model on the market. This information should be helpful when trying to convince players to use the helmet as opposed to something with which they may be more familiar.

It is encouraging to see that there has been a push to try and develop a helmet specifically built to withstand hits to the head for football, but why stop there? Baseball for years has been trying to tackle the issue of player safety both for batters and players in the field, and while batters have seen some improvements with the helmet design, players in the field (especially pitchers) haven’t seen the same sort of help. What about hockey? Players are constantly hit against the boards, ice, and other players and the concussion issue is still a problem in the game today. It’s not as mainstream as the concussion story in the NFL, but the lawsuits are there.

It’s unfortunate that this new technology stemmed from numerous lawsuits and deaths as a result of poor distribution and flat-out withholding of information. Player safety, regardless of sport, should be at the forefront of league offices because ultimately, it’s how the game grows. Kids are being pulled out of sports because of the concern for brain development and there is a growing concern that leagues like the NFL may not survive in the long-term. But there is hope. Companies like VICIS that can come in and design safer helmets can be the saviors for modern day sports and keep from tragedies like CTE from happening.

For more information on the ZERO1 helmets, including testing and information about the company, click the source link below:

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