Several of the collisions I’ve witnessed this year at the NFL level were violent, disturbing and a few of them were very unnecessary. One thing I have noticed is the amount of players that are hit with glancing blows, yet they fall as if their fifth vertebra was crushed, arms stiff like and reaching for the sky while their eyes roll around in their head like balls on a pool table. With the rising concern with brain trauma and concussion issues as it relates to long-term illness to football players, the question I have is whether or not the latest wave of concussions related to the equipment, better known as the Brain Bucket or a player’s best friend, the helmet.
The NFL and its owners are listening to former players and current doctors and are shocked with every brain, neck and spine related deaths and illness’s to players both past and present. Concussions and the players’ safety is the NFL’s main focal point. This year there were 154 concussions reported through Week Eight. Players with concussions must be cleared by a battery of neurological tests and signed off by a neurological surgeon. While educating head trainers, team doctors and the fan base, forcing players to police themselves might help as well, but maybe they should look at the current equipment being provided as a possible issue.
Helmets are the most important piece of equipment a football player wears. They have evolved from leather padded skull caps with no face masks to a hard plastic light weight shell and rubber coated steel face masks. Back in the old days, brain and neck injuries were not recorded as they are today. Along with the graduation of helmet generations, the player has evolved as well, and he understands how to hit with the crown of the helmet, using it as a true weapon.
There a three major manufactures for the helmet for all levels of football (little league, high school, all levels of collegiate competition and the professional leagues). Riddell is the oldest and most purchased helmet in the USA. They are the only manufacturer allowed to have their name on outside of the helmet for branding purposes. The other two manufactures are Xenith and Schutt. The players can wear any of the three. The most popular is the Riddell at 75%, Schutt 23% and Xenith 2%
The competition between these companies is extremely fierce. They bad mouth each other. False testing results are leaked to the media and NFL sources. Schutt has filed for bankruptcy following a federal court judge overturning a patent infringement verdict in favor of Riddell, worth 29 million dollars.
While football players are getting bigger stronger and faster because of good eating habits and intense year round workouts, many sources suggest that players use HGH (Human Growth Hormone) to gain a competitive edge over there competition (steroid injections are in both our chicken and beef products, but that’s for another column).
Riddell has a monopoly on the football helmet business. Is Riddell staying ahead of the growth of the human body (the size, speed and explosive movement of today’s players)? Who is putting restraints on the manufacturer? Are they working with NFL’s Competition Committee? Who tests their product outside of their corporation prior to the product’s release? Are they making a product that protects the skull and neck (and how the collisions are impacted)?
Concussions in the 2010 season are up 21% from last year. This is only what is reported as “awareness thru education.” I’m not convinced it is just better awareness through education and might be related to the lack of manufacturer development and proper testing. Watching games you can see the new wave helmets players are wearing, and several concussions reported from non helmet to helmet contact despite explosive collisions just doesn’t seem right. I’m sure numbers were down 5-7 years ago and the collisions were just as explosive. Ask yourself why.