“Got your bell rung.” “Shake out the cobwebs.” “Lights out.” “Seeing stars.” What used to be common coaching metaphors and a gauge of toughness towards young football players is now one of the major debates in our sport – Concussions. Through CBA negotiations, official NFL rule changes, and appeals from active players and veteran alumni, the League has been forced to address this currently popular, yet critical issue.
NFL and the U.S. Army
If you’ve followed this story closely at all, you’ve heard the continuing cry for further research and study. Football is not the only industry looking for answers to the concussion conundrum, the United States Army is struggling to find solutions to servicemen and women inflicted with serious head injuries from combat. It’s pleasing to see that two trades, with such similarities across a myriad of factors, have come together in search of potential remedies to the ramifications of concussions upon their personnel.
But further studies and research aren’t necessary to confirm the long term harm done by repeated concussions and the damage inflicted. One of the greatest military leaders of our generation, General Colin Powell, affirms to a main maxim of the “40-70 Rule”. As Powell puts it, “You never make a decision with less than 40% of the information. But you never wait until you have more than 70% of the information.”
New football helmet development
Rung bells, cobwebs, dings and stars…concussions by any other names. If General Powell were overseeing the process, he’d probably say “Enough information, move forward.” I would agree. We can put sensors into helmets, set baselines, review MRI’s after injuries, even evaluate autopsy reports, but none of those noble efforts are going to prevent concussions from occurring. Head trauma is damaging, we know that. What can we do as an industry to help prevent it? Rules changes and punitive fines get the players’ attention, but don’t protect the brain from bruising as it smashes against the inside of your cranium.
It’s time for advanced helmet technology using data from NASA, NASCAR, motorcycle helmets, the military and other levels of football competition, wherever information is available. One manufacturer didn’t build the space shuttle, spread out the responsibility.
NFL Program Management
I’d look for the NFL to take the lead on project management and serve as the overseer for the greater good of the sport. Companies like Bike, Bell and Riddell have long held a monopoly on the helmet industry, but other companies have entered the market like Xenith, creator of the X2 and used by many professional players. More than likely this is what NFL ownerships would rather see occur, new entries through the private sector. But as The Football Educator has expressed time and again in this new era of athlete (GEN Y), what better way to demonstrate to the players they’re assets and not commodities through their own employers taking the lead in helmet development?
Break development down into 5 areas of emphasis;
- Outer shell – shape, composite material makeup, hard vs soft shell
- Inner Lining – perhaps the most important component, new structures, thickness, point of impact “give”
- Chin Strap – attachment points, padding
- Facemask – new materials, new designs
- Other – mouthpiece (make it required), neck support, outside the box thinking
NFL football helmet development
Each of the above aspects of a football helmet can be compartmentalized and fit into a bigger picture of overall development. The NFL would act as the central program manager and ensure communication and cooperation between the various subcomponents and contractors of the project. I think providing opportunity outside a single manufacturer will take advantage of more technologies and expertise.
Look, I know the League will say they’re already involved at this point, but if concussions truly are at the forefront of concern for the NFL, then owners should take an order from General Powell. The problem falls between 40 and 70, start looking for the solution through your own coordinated efforts and build a better helmet on your own!