NFL Concussion Prevention: Could New Helmet Save Football?

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NFL Concussion Prevention: Could New Helmet Save Football?
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As the NFL continues to fight the never-ending battle against concussions, could the final answer be found in a helmet that's made in Sweden and currently only available for extreme sports and equestrians?

In short, no.

However, just because one piece of technology or one solution can't get the NFL all the way to the end zone doesn't mean that the league shouldn't attempt to move the metaphorical ball downfield in hopes of eventually reaching its goal.

One thing is for sure; the status quo is not acceptable.

Many fans don't accept that. They love the status quo, and why wouldn't they? It's the game we know and the game we love. Why would anyone in their right mind want to change a thing? These players know what they're signing up for! They know the risks! Just let them play!

Well, no. A thousand times, no. 

No one truly knows the risks of brain damage in professional football. We're starting to learn, together, and it's a scarier set of truths than many fans, players, media and league officials really want to accept. The men who played football in the '80s and '90s are just now realizing what they put their bodies through. Two decades-plus later, players are bigger, faster and stronger, and the game's impacts seem to get bigger, faster and scarier every year.

The game is already changing. Roger Goodell's efforts to make the game safer are not changing football. They're trying to protect a game that has already systemically changed. Walter Camp and the other pioneers of football never imagined a 300-pound man running a 40-yard dash in under five seconds. They would never believe that a linebacker running a 4.4 would ever have the opportunity to collide with a return specialist running in the 4.3 range.

Where the NFL (and helmet manufacturers, and just about everyone else) messed up is not that they want to change the game, but that they're reacting to problems that have been around for a generation, and it might be too little, too late.

Enter MIPS.

Multi-Directional Impact Protection System was founded in 1997 by a Swedish neurosurgeon. Tired of reacting to the brain injuries he saw athletes suffer from every day, Hans von Holst decided to start doing something about it.

Yes, Mr. Goodell, there's someone out there who decided to be proactive rather than reactive with regard to brain injuries. It's almost like there are solutions to this problem that don't involve fining James Harrison or witch-hunting in New Orleans.

Image courtesy of Graham Murdoch for Popular Science

Popular Science recently profiled MIPS and called it "The Helmet That Can Save Football."

Rhetoric aside, the article described the helmet's technology in this way:

The idea behind MIPS is simple: The plastic layer sits snugly on a player’s head beneath the padding. By allowing the head to float during an impact, MIPS can eliminate some of the rotational force before it makes its way to the brain.

MIPS isn't the only new helmet technology making waves in the market. Sports Illustrated's Will Carroll profiled a helmet by Simpson-Ganassi Racing that a handful of players at the NFL level have already adopted. Riddell, the largest football-helmet manufacturer, has rolled out "Concussion Reduction Technology" in helmets like its 360. Companies like Xenith have taken the fight right to parents, convincing them to buy the best of the best for their youth-football players rather than use whatever is available. 

So, MIPS might not be the helmet to save football... No, let me rephrase that; no helmet, no one solution is going to "save football." However, it is incredibly important that MIPS, Simpson-Ganassi, Riddell, Xenith and the dozens of others keep trying.

Believing that one single piece of technology is the panacea to save football clouds the issue and ultimately can do more harm than good. That said, it's also equally absurd to believe that helmets designed several generations ago are somehow capable of protecting this generation of athletes.

The helmets NFL athletes currently wear are, largely, unacceptable in terms of doing anything to combat the concussions that are piling up in ever-increasing fashion. College, high school and youth athletes are even more at risk.

MIPS wants to be part of the solution. So, while this helmet may not save football all by itself, it's pitching in toward the greater goal of a safer game for all.

 

Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.

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