A Safer Football Helmet?
By Sandra Dalton, Staff Writer
Brain injuries, more specifically the discovery of and publicity around chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), have cast football in a bad light in recent years. The future of the sport, as we know it, has become questionable. Can we save the sport by saving players from an almost certain fate of degenerative brain disease that robs them of their memory, destroys their personalities and often ends in suicide? Do we throw up our hands and say, “They know what they’re signing up for now, and besides, they get paid the big bucks”? And what about our kids, players at the high school and youth level who aren’t yet equipped to make a fully informed decision? We’re a long way from answering those questions, but there is a new helmet that signals a real effort to keep football playable.
The Problem with Helmets
Whether you’re talking football, motorcycles, or anything in between, helmets are a controversial subject for good reason. The assumption is that helmets protect you, so they’re good. But, it’s not that simple. Helmets are a double-edged sword. Yes, they provide some protection. But, not nearly as much as most people think they do. And therein lies the danger.
It’s human nature. Instead of adding the helmet to the precautions we would take without one, the helmet emboldens us to take more chances. Just think about the Oklahoma Drill. Would anyone even consider that without a helmet? The concept is so persuasive that the idea that helmet might eventually banned in the NFL has been tossed around, because it would change the way that players instinctively behave in play, making it safer.
The problem is that the helmets we know provide limited protection. Yes, they cushion the blow from the outside, but they do little to protect the brain from the inside of the skull which it slams into, and they can’t help with rotational forces that cause tearing inside the brain.
The New Helmet
Enter the VICIS Zero1. The new helmet became available this season. The NFL tested 33 different helmets and the Zero1 came up as the most effective in the ability to reduce concussions.
The Zero1 is a complex piece of equipment, capable of reducing the impact of rotational acceleration which is key in reducing concussions. While it may seem counterintuitive, the fact that its outer shell is softer and more pliable is part of the equation that makes it more effective in providing protection for the brain.
Getting Our Priorities Straight
Unfortunately, the Zero1 is only available to players at the professional and college levels at this time. And it comes with a hefty price tag. It currently retails at $1,500. One would think that protecting high school and youth players would be the highest priority, but no. However, VICIS CEO Dave Marver told the Washington Post that they hope to have a more accessible version on the market in 2019. He said, “Look, we were founded in part by a pediatric neurosurgeon. We didn’t get into this to help 2,000 pro players, even though we want to do that. We want to help 4 million kids. That’s what motivates us.”
Let’s hope that plays out. And that, if it does, we’ll see the regulations and necessary funding to ensure that the high school and youth players who risk their futures for the love of the game instead of pay, or just because their parents, peers and coaches expect them to, get the best protection that can be had.
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