December 14, 2015
The National Football League (NFL) recently co-sponsored a research challenge that came up with some winning products in the form of a cushion made for artificial turf, a shock absorbing helmet, and a rubberized tether for slowing down the speed at which a head snaps back due to a collision – all technologies aimed at preventing concussion-related injuries. The helmet was developed by the University of Washington, the tether was the creation of the US Army Research Laboratory and the cushion was a product of Viconic Sporting. All of them will be provided with additional funding worth $1 million from GE, Under Armour and the NFL.
On 3rd December, the senior vice president for health and safety for the NFL, Jeffrey Miller said that this presented an opportunity for them to see what the future has in hold for them. He gave the speech after making the announcement for the awards that were presented under the Head Health Challenge initiatives. Around $20 million are being provided to three separate innovation challenges in research and technology development for better identifying, understanding and protection against any brain injury. As far as the NFL is concerned, concussions and the brain damage they lead to have become a serious and crucial issue.
These worries intensified amidst the suicide deaths of Dave and Seau Duerson who died by shooting themselves in the chest. A lawsuit had also been brought against the NFL by former players regarding concussions and the league reached a settlement in the case in April, which could end up costing it a hefty sum of $1 billion as a federal appeals court is still mulling over the settlement figure to decide if it is sufficient or not.
The research challenge involved the development of practical technologies that could be released commercially. The rubberized tether had been devised for soldiers first to be used in knee and ankle braces. An elastic strap is used by this tether, which helps it in working as a rubber band at slow speeds because of which it can relax and stretch easily. The Army Research laboratory’s Eric Wetzel said that the tether could resist more force if it was pulled quickly. He claimed that it worked as a shock absorber because it could resist with 100 times more force. This product runs below the chin strap and is anchored under the jersey to the body. The Ph.D. said that typically they had to think about blast injury and ballistics, but in this case they focused on concussion and brain injury.
Part of Viconic’s business development, Jason Kroll demonstrated that when cushioned by their product, the head that landed on the turf would experience extremely low impact levels. He said that the number of artificially turf surfaces that were annually installed in North American were about 2000. He added that only in 10 percent of these cases an artificial underlayment surface was installed, which means that there is plenty of room for their technology. Representing the University of Washington, Dave Marver said that their researchers had tested helmets for their ability of protecting against skull fracture, which they managed very well.
However, they didn’t fear so well in reducing the risk of concussion. Therefore, he said that a multilayer design had been introduced that could perform both functions i.e. provides protection against skull fracture and also mitigates the risk of concussion. Miller asserted that even though these initiatives could go a long way in improving the safety of professional players and also those of school age, they could already see a big difference in NFL because of the new rules that had been introduced and the concussion protocols implemented. The NFL official asserted that there was a 34 percent decline in concussions in the season games played in the last three years. He also said that there was a 37 percent reduction in concussions caused by helmet-to-helmet hits. Miller said that while it wasn’t a big success, it was still a trend.
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