July 17, 2011

The Helmet Issue

This article is on an idea or an issue that I have been thinking about for a little while now. It goes back to the helmet and concussions discussion that we had last year but on a little different tangent. This is all about the little guys, not the professional players, but what is the NFL (Riddell) going to do or help out the numerous other players that play the beautiful sport of gridiron. I am talking about the issue of new quality head gear and it’s availability to everyone else not in the NFL, NCAA and I would think some high schools.

The helmet first began as a strap on leather helmet in the early years of the 20th century. It was developed as such for the better part of 40 years before John Riddell and his son created hard plastic helmets. From there they have been developed to what we have today. The helmet was originally developed to prevent head injuries and skull fractures. The face mask was included to protect the good looks of players. But it wasn’t till the being of this century that the focus of helmet design changed to better protect the brain and prevent brain trauma including concussions. It took over a century for us to decide to protect one of if not the most important part of our body being the brain.

One reason I believe it took so long is we are only now seeing the effects and gathering the scientific data that brain trauma is having on retired players from that era. It’s thanks to great players like Steve Young and Troy Aikman giving significant exposure to the issue of concussions. It is no coincidence that two years after Aikman retired that one of the first helmets was release and designed to help reduce the likely hood of concussions, the Riddell Revolution.

Recently Riddell released their new helmet the 360. It is the first helmet really designed specifically to prevent brain trauma and concussions. This is because the front of the helmet has been redesigned. As a MMA fan and a bit of a boxing fan I know and most of you can assume that getting knocked out or rocked happens when you get smashed in the face. And the same is for football. Not often is someone smacking you real hard in the back of the head.

This is an extract from Technology Review on the new helmet and the issues with concussions:

The Riddell 360 reduces the force of impact to the front of a player's head, where 70 percent of hits occur and where 70 percent of concussions result from hits to the front of the helmet. The average player sustains an estimated 950 impacts to the head during a season. These hits could result not only in concussions but also long-term brain damage.

Riddell has gathered statistics on head injuries using its own HIT technology, a system that employs sensor-equipped helmets to measure the location, magnitude, and direction of hits experienced during a game or practice. To date, the system has gathered data on over 1.5 million head impacts. The NFL recently announced that it will use the HIT technology to measure head impacts during the 2011 season. The league is working to advance the system and build new sensors that can be placed not just around the top of the helmet, but also behind a player's ear and in a mouthpiece for more accurate readings.

Riddell redesigned key aspects of the helmet to better protect its front section. Faceguards are normally made of carbon steel and attached to the upper front of the helmet; so when a player gets hit in the face, energy is transferred to the front of the head. In contrast, the facemask on the Riddell 360 is made of a hybrid of carbon steel and a lightweight, flexible material. It's attached to the side of the helmet with hinge clips, which means the faceguard flexes on impact, absorbing more of the energy before returning to its original shape.

Riddell researchers also created a "face frame structure," a continuous padding arrangement made from materials that help reduce the amount of force transmitted to the player's head from a hit to the front of the helmet. The padding inside the helmet has a hexagonal design that forms well to the player's head. And the helmet has an inflatable liner in the side and back for a custom fit. This prevents a player's head from moving around inside the helmet, and keeps the helmet from popping off.

The helmet, priced at over $400, will ship to all Division 1 college teams this spring.

Another major challenge in helmet design is protecting against rotational or angular accelerations, hits that cause a player's head to rotate or spin slightly, which most often lead to concussions. Since 2007, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been funding studies, using the HIT system, to measure how this type of head impact causes injury. The HIT technology measures both rotational and linear acceleration of a player's head. Linear acceleration is the result of a direct hit that causes a player's head to move back and forth. The resulting reaction force is expressed in g-force (with one g being equal to the force of gravity). Research conducted by the NFL has determined that 98 g is the threshold for concussions.

"[Riddell's] helmet concept and design is certainly unique," says Joseph Maroon, a professor of neurosurgery at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center and the team neurosurgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers. "But the problem is that there is a lot about concussions and head injury that we don't fully understand."

This is a key issue for those researching ways to protect football players. A study published in the Journal of Athletic Training in December 2010 found that brain trauma can be caused not only by hits that leave a player woozy, but also by the accumulation of smaller hits.

"The discussion that is happening now is, which hits do you want to protect against? The huge catastrophic concussions, or the smaller hits that a player takes 50 times a day?" says Chris Nowinski, president of the Sports Legacy Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Waltham, Massachusetts, that studies brain injury in athletes. "Frankly, I don't think people know which way to go at this point," says Nowinski.

Rick Greenwald, president of Simbex, a research and product development company in Lebanon, New Hampshire, and principal investigator of the NIH studies using the HIT system, says researchers still don't know how much rotational motion causes a concussion, and therefore don't know how much they need to reduce it in order to prevent concussions.

Nowinski says brain trauma and concussions are always going to be a problem in helmeted sports. "There is a lot about head injuries that we don't know and don't understand," he says, "and that is going to be true for a very long time."

From the extract you can see that Riddell is taking big steps forward and that we have a long way till we fully understand the extent of concussions and brain related trauma and diseases.

The issue I have is what about the rest of us? As the article says the new helmet will be shipped to all Division I colleges and it does cost over 400 dollars. My issue is the game is much bigger than just the NFL and college. These guys are fully funded and have easy access to this equipment. I believe some highly funded high schools would be the same. But what about the under paid high schools that don’t have the funding? Then start looking aboard, Mexico, Canada and Japan have numerous teams, most probably don’t have much of this gear. Then go further afield to places like Europe, New Zealand and here in Australia. These places probably find it harder to get this equipment and are still using very old style gear. I know for a fact that here in Australia that we are not fully equipped, sometimes teams share gear so that players are fully equipped. I would say the same is for New Zealand teams.

An example of this situation is I know that on my team that only one player has a Riddell Revolution helmet and he won that in a team fundraising auction, it was the main item in the auction and got a lot of bids. Do remember this is a helmet that came out almost a decade ago. This means the rest of us are using equipment that doesn’t protect us against concussions and brain trauma. Plus the gear we do use the helmets haven’t been reconditioned in years.

Another example was a friend of mine went to a gridiron camp here in Australia otherwise known as the Down Under Bowl. A few Australian teams take on a few American teams in a competition. Anyway my friend was having a conversation with an American player about his speed and skill and ways to improve it. My friend said there wasn’t much he could do about that (he is very tall). To that the American player said ‘Well lets at least do something about your helmet, it is ancient.’ So hopefully you start to see the position that we are in and I would think many other players around the global are in too.

For us in Australia to purchase this equipment we have to go through third party vendors as Riddell and most similar companies do not ship outside the US. This takes more time and extra cost, plus is an exercise in its self to do, which many players don’t have the time or the money to do so.

I take issue with the cost of the product. I understand Riddell need to make money and this is their top of the range product. But you are making parents and players skip on the safety equipment that they really need because it is close to being unaffordable. Thus we are putting a price on tomorrow’s youth, their health and well being.

For me personally I take issue to this, the cost, the availability to the product. A bit of my story, I am not that old. Only 21 years of age and I love my gridiron, I am in my 5 season of gridiron having started playing when I was 17. Over those 21 years I have suffered 3 concussions. The first one I came off a scooter (the foot push ones, like razor not a bike scooter) head first into the tarmac (no helmet, stupid me) in the 7th grade. I suffered headaches and migraines over the next few years having them frequently, every few months. The next concussion happened in year 11 during a school rugby league game. I made a tackle down the sideline. I believe I connected the side of my head on the player’s hip then he landed on top of me, smashing my head into the ground again. The third was last year during a gridiron game. I came down from the safety position and made a tackle on the RB on a sweep play. I believe I did a similar thing to the second concussion. I got my head across the player’s body and connected his hip on the side of my head. Also I was giving up probably 30 kilos to this guy (do the math, that is over 60 pounds). This was by far the worst concussion that I have had, the others I came too pretty quickly. This one I don’t remember going back to the huddle and the next play. I came too on the sideline talking to the trainer and had a green tint in my eye sight for the next 10 mins (so the lower bottom part of my vision had a green look to it).

My concussions compared to someone like Jack Bechta who shared in his Damaged Goods article that “As a former NCAA college player, I suffered 3 concussions. One so bad I didn’t know where I was for 36 hours and couldn’t remember the names of my teammates. My freshman year in college I was taught to block by leading with the butt of my helmet.” are not as bad. That probably goes back to the competitive level I play at.

I have been lucky that my concussions haven’t happened often with several years in between each and not to the extent of some other concussions. But it is just that, remember that article extract says that small repeated impacts to the head are just as if not more worse than suffering concussions.

In sad news a union player recently suffered brain and spinal injuries making a tackle that he won’t recover from. Click here for more. A shock reminder that it can all end so suddenly.

Since the greater focus on head injuries the last few years I have been monitoring the news and following all information about concussions and brain injuries I can, as I worry for myself. You know I want to grow old and see my grand kids come of age, I don’t want to leave a young family behind or force them to take care of me from injuries I suffered playing this sport.

I have read studies where they say that anymore than 3 concussions and you start to get into the danger zone where you can create permanent damage. That scares me, I will be honest.

For me I will invest in one of these new helmets, but it won’t be till next year when I have the money and the time to get one because for me this is an invest, the helmet I probably will have for the next 5 or so years. By then I also hope the price comes down so they are easier to afford. This won’t solve all the problems as I could still get concussed. But it will go a long way to easy my mind and better protect me then what I currently use. I do worry till then that I may suffer that head injury that puts me over the edge. I want to play this sport for the next 10 years. I don’t want to give up the sport I love at 21.

Painful remind of what happens when it goes wrong, these kids are 7.

I will open it up to discussion then. What are some ideas that could be implemented to provide better equipment for players around the world? ~ Aussie.


  1. My idea is that the NFL and Riddell start a helmets for overseas players program. The NFL receives new equipment all the time, same for the NCAA. I think it wouldn't be to difficult for older equipment, like from last year, be reconditioned and provided to overseas players for free or a minimal fee. Or a similar program to provide equipment to players. In the hope to phase out old style helmets and provide players with equipment that will correctly protect them.

  2. Continued from the last post....

    Yeah, are a fan of going after D. Williams? Think he will be a big boost over knowshon? It sounds like our new team is either giving up on knowshon, either that or they are trying to see how he responds to criticism and good competition. Should be interesting.

    As far as D players in the keeper league. I have considered it and still am not sure if it will be good to put in, in the 3rd season of a keeper league. I still need convincing. I did add an IR spot on the roster though.

  3. i meant to say- are you a fan of going after williams?

  4. I like Williams but I also have issues with him. I would like a big fast back more, but could get a rotation of the two and see how it goes. It would be interesting to see how it works out but need someone. Knowshon could be a third down back this year.

    Yeah thought as much, I do like the IR spot could be very useful.

  5. I would rather have ahmad bradshaw personally. But DeAngelo has some beastly stats in past seasons, so if fox thinks he still has it, i say why not. I just don't want to overpay him.

  6. I would rather go cheap on the rb and throw some money at dts. I like Bradshaw, but the role he plays I don't think he deserves the money he probably asks.

    I think now adays you need three backs, the fast change of pace guy, the big bruising back, and the guy that is good at everything. So what we need?

  7. I am not sure that there are any DT's that are worth throwing big money at this year. I agree with whoever it was who said that we can find a decent DT or two in free agency, but they may not be good enough to consider a long term answer. I hope I am wrong, because I would like to put in that piece of the puzzle now and have it not be a weakness this year. But if that is the case, there are a lot of runningbacks who are free agents this year who could contribute for years to come, and I don't know that there will be as many next year. So of those three back categories, where do you think knowshon and deangelo fall under? There is also always reggie bush, ronnie brown, ricky williams, sounds like leron mclain wants to be on a team where he can bet more carries, probably marion barber, benson (boo) too much trouble, sproles, michael bush, leon washington, heck here is a list of others that are worth mentioning:
    Tim Hightower (ARZ)
    Jerious Norwood (ATL)
    Mike Bell (CLE)
    Laurence Maroney (DEN)
    Kevin Smith (DET)
    Brandon Jackson (GB)
    Derrick Ward (HOU)
    Joseph Addai (IND)
    Mike Hart (IND)
    Patrick Cobbs (MIA)
    Sammy Morris (NE)
    Kevin Faulk (NE)
    Fred Taylor (NE)
    Danny Ware (NYG)
    Jerome Harrison (PHI)
    Mewelde Moore (PIT)
    Brian Westbrook (SF)
    Kenneth Darby (STL)
    Michael Spurlock (TB)
    Cadillac Williams (TB)
    Jason Snelling (ATL) (FB)
    Brian Leonard (CIN) (FB)
    Lawrence Vickers (CLE) (FB)
    Jerome Felton (DET) (FB)
    Korey Hall (GB) (FB)
    Lex Hilliard (MIA) (FB)
    Naufahu Tahi (MIN) (FB)
    Tony Richardson (NYJ) (FB)
    Heath Evans (NO) (FB)
    Marcel Reece (OAK) (FB)
    Ahmard Hall (TEN) (FB)

  8. I think knowshon and Williams both fit into that good at everything category, but not amazing at anything, that 1st down guy. I don't think they really compliment each other. I would like to see White get a look at that bruising back spot, which is probably the position you would give McLain. So we only really need a speedster. I would be fine with Williams, knowshon, white and a speedster as the four rbs, keep ball around as the fifth. Just means that they will have to share carries will be interesting to see what happens.

    From the list you could go Addai, Harrison, Snelling I guess.

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