The ongoing issues surrounding concussions in the NFL are weighing down the sport. It has led to settlements between the NFL and retired players who develop and will develop serious medical conditions in connection to repeated head trauma. Some $500 million in claims have so far been approved, with more expected in the coming years. Chances are that settlements will exceed the billion-dollar mark.
The human cost of concussions, which lead to CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, are just as staggering. Kevin Turner, Mike Webster (first to be diagnosed with CTE), Fred McNeill (first to be diagnosed with CTE while alive), Justin Strzelczyk, and Chris Henry are just five of the many NFL players found to have CTE, and all have passed away. Turner and McNeill died of Lou Gehrig disease, which is believed to have been caused by CTE. Webster suffered dementia and chronic pain before his death in 1990. Strzelczyk died in a car crash in 2007 after a mental breakdown attributed to CTE-related brain damage. Johnson, the youngest of the five, died after going into a fit of rage — again, purportedly induced by CTE — which caused him to fall off a moving vehicle. These five cases are representative of how severe CTE is, and it is a cost that the NFL is finally acknowledging.
The NFL is tackling the concussion issue literally head-on and is doing it by adopting the best in helmet technology. Helmet maker Xenith is one of the leading brands with Director of New Product Innovation Kyle Lamson in charge. His team looks at rotational and G forces “to determine how best to protect players from injury.” In fact, Xenith helmets rank extremely high in a Geek Wire infographic that shows the top performing helmets in the NFL. Four out of the 17 top performing helmets are made by Xenith, whose Adaptive Head Protection technology helps minimize sudden head movement, reducing the jarring effects on the brain.
Riddell’s helmets are also highly rated, partly due to their smart technology. Forbes reports that Riddell helmets use the InSite Impact Response System, a sensor technology that monitors hit impact and alerts coaching staff when impact, single or accumulated, exceeds a predetermined threshold. Players involved can then be subjected to stringent concussion protocols to ensure safety and prevent anyone from playing through concussive hits. Other helmet manufacturers have followed suit and are now making helmets with smart technology. Coral notes that these smart helmets help reduce the risk of brain injuries by using sensors and magnet technology. Riddell introduced this technology back in 2014 and has since taken a step up with the Riddell InSite Training Tool. It is basically the InSite Impact Response System plus a head-injury analytics program that illustrates where the player is hit, how hard, and how the impact compares to the national average.
Fewer Concussions in 2018
The NFL’s efforts to address concussions seem to be working, with the league reporting a 29% drop in concussions last season. The league attributes this positive development to the shift in helmet use, where teams are encouraged to only use helmets that have undergone rigorous testing. NFL executive vice president of health and safety is naturally pleased but rightfully guarded. “When it comes to the health and safety of our players, there’s no finish line,” Miller said. “This is a multi-year process… We’ll try to figure out where we set goals and there’s still room for improvement.”
Further improvements will most certainly involve smart technologies. According to Miller, the league will experiment with sensor-embedded mouth guards, which will be used to “measure frequency, magnitude, and direction of impacts that players experience” — the same things Riddell helmets have been doing. It is a refreshing show of commitment to address a serious problem, and the hope is that these efforts will work for the players’ sake and help to safeguard their wellbeing and futures once they have finished playing.