We’ve come to another football season, but with a marked twist: Never has public awareness of the effects of concussions been higher.
In late August, the NFL settled its concussion lawsuit with 4,500 plaintiffs for $765 million, which includes medical exams, concussion related compensation, and medical research for retired players and their families. Everyone from parents to athletic trainers has been schooled on ways to detect concussion-like symptoms, and emergency rooms report a notable increase in the reporting of head trauma.
The momentum toward increased player safety is reaching product manufacturing as well. Two companies, i1Biometrics and Xenith Helmets, operate from the middle of the debate, since their products offer direct sources of protection — i1Biometrics’ Impact Sensing HammerHead Mouthguard, and Xenith’s X2 Football Helmet.
Formed in Summer 2012 after spinning off from BiteTech, the Rowayton, CT-based i1Biometrics measures head impact through its mouthguard. The electronic sensors within the mouthguard measure linear and rotational force impact, then transmits the data to a laptop on the sidelines, where trainers can evaluate the data and assist coaches in determining whether or not to remove a player.
“The system doesn’t diagnose concussions,” Vice President of Sales Jesse Harper said. “It’s more like eyes and ears on the field. At the pro level, they have one or more trainers on the field, and one up in the box. High schools and most colleges can’t afford that. A trainer that is busy trying to ice elbows and ankles is going to have his/her back to the field and miss single hits that could lead to concussions, unless they’re massive.”
Linear force head impact is measured in g forces, with numbers that, if applied to aircraft g’s, would be off the charts. “However,” cautioned Harper, a former player and coach, “we’re talking here about tens of millisecond g force impact.”
According to the Sports Legacy Institute, hits that levy more than 50gs of impact force are considered major. When it goes over 90gs, the likelihood of head injury is high (see story on page 57). The other measurement, the lesser-known rotational force impact, is measured in decarevolutions per second2. Using the technology, coaches, doctors and trainers can assess the data from hits to every player on the field by the game, season and career. That way, Harper noted, such problems as second-impact injuries and an individual’s particular exposure to head impact can be closely monitored “Our mouthguard system will allow them to read data from every hit to the head, and sends them alerts if a hit exceeds the thresholds they set,” Harper explained. “So if they see #28 take a 92g hit, they can tap the coach on the shoulder and say, ‘Hey, pull him out, we need to look at him.’”
1Biometrics first tested the Impact Sensing HammerHead Mouthguard for the 2013 spring football season, with four high school teams, as well as the annual MOKAN (Missouri vs. Kansas) High School All-Star Football Game. “‘We were out there for a couple weeks, then for the game. About 100 athletes were sensored up on the field,” Harper said.
Testing will continue through Fall, with official public rollout scheduled for Spring 2014. According to Harper, several Division I college teams are among those planning to use the Hammerhead Mouthguard. Xenith Helmets have been worn since 2008. More than 100 college football teams, 100 NFL players, several thousand high school athletes and four bona-fide NFL stars (Ray Rice, Devin McCourty, Sean Weatherspoon and Dallas Clark) are among happy customers. Xenith earned a 5-star rating (the highest) from Virginia Tech’s Helmet Ratings.
The big question: What’s under the hood? Xenith Helmets feature three interactive concepts — adaptive air-cell (called Aware Flow) shock absorbers, the Shock Bonnet Technology that reduces sudden head movement during impact, and an adaptive fit system to help keep the helmet on the player’s head.
Using air-cell shock absorbers instead of foam padding makes all the difference in the world, according to VP of Product Development, Sander Reynolds. “The Xenith Shock Bonnet Technology acts as a suspension system, allowing the helmet shell to move independently, which helps deflect energy and reduce rotational forces,” Reynolds said. “In most ordinary helmets, the shells and foam padding is directly connected, so to speak. Our design is much different. We have developed an innovative shock system that performs differently during an impact.”
Along with the air-cell shock absorbers comes the fit. We’ve all seen plenty of high-impact hits in which helmets fly off heads; unfortunately, sports media tends to highlight them. The key, Reynolds says, is to keep the helmet attached and secure while maintaining proper fit and comfort.
“More and more, medical experts are saying fit is an important part of the entire helmet equation,” he said. “Our helmet is designed so that, when you cinch the chin strap, it conforms to the shape of your head, creating a custom fit. I think we’re at the forefront with our adaptive fitting helmet.” Reaction to the Xenith Helmet has been strong and positive from players, coaches, trainers, sports medicine doctors and parents. In fact, the company produced a video to show initial reactions alone.
“Players can’t believe a helmet with all this technology is so comfortable,” Reynolds said. “They don’t expect that part of it to be addressed. Then, when they understand everything we’ve done, their comfort level grows that much more.”