A Glimpse Into The Future of how Newer Helmets Will Decrease Concussions

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal wrote about a new helmet that is designed to decrease concussion in athletes playing football. This new helmet has made it onto the scene in the National Football League. This helmet is called Zero1 by VICIS, a company founded by a surgeon and mechanical engineer at the Department of University of Washington. The Zero1 helmet has a soft outer shell that compresses on impact, allowing the helmet to better absorb the shock. The inside of the helmet has movable columns that can twist and bend on impact distributing the force more evenly.

Not surprisingly some of the Seattle Seahawks are using the helmet. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson is among the 50 or so NFL players to wear Zero1 helmets this year. New technology is always difficult to adopt. Even with all the concerns of concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), most of the NFL players still wear traditional comments made from Riddell. But things are slowly changing especially with the study showing that 110 out of 111 brains of former football players all had positive signs of CTE. I recently posted an article about this.

The Zero1 is unlike traditional helmets that have a hard outer shell, the exterior covering of the Zero1 is soft and malleable and smooshes like the bumper of a car on impact. When it bangs on the floor, the Zero1 is reported to sound like a bouncing basketball rather than cracking fiberglass.

Jeff Crandall, who tests helmets for the NFL, was quoted saying, “the analysis essentially measures how well a helmet prevents the head from jarring and twisting in different directions on impact. The Zero1 helmet scored better across the board than the other helmets.”

Part of the problem is old philosophy, don’t use something new until someone else shows that it is better. While this is relevant in many situations, I don’t think it pertains to this situation given the epidemic of concussions and CTE we are finding in the NFL and many other sports. In the world of elite athletes, it is understandable why they would not adopt a new helmet design as any little thing like weight, fit and comfort can alter performance.

Another roadblock to adopting new safety equipment such as better helmets, are false beliefs of executives and players that long-term brain damage is something that will happen to “someone else” and fear more the consequences that another piece of equipment could affect their performance and thus their contracts in future years. And to be clear, no helmet can prevent a player sustaining a concussion. The company VICI is involved in research funding provided by the NFL. The NFL put up $20 million to support research and development on new helmets to decrease brain injury. This has resulted in a price of $1500 for  for the Zero1. This is unfortunately out of the budget of many high school and college athletic sport teams who desperately need this technology.

It is interesting that the NFL has a put such a small part of their budget towards helmet research. In history, fewer investments have been better than owning an NFL franchise. The average NFL team is now worth $2.3 billion. And if you add together the NFL’s 10 richest teams, it amounts to a network of over $60 billion. Logic might reason that teams could easily afford this newer technology and helmets and even replace helmets every game, or even after every play is needed. After all one would think that a person’s brain is worth it. We can only hope that team owners and the NFL businessman will do the right thing. But one thing is certain 110 brains of 111 all showing signs of CTE is a wake-up call for everybody involved. Hopefully support for companies like VICI and others are designing equipment to better absorb the shock that comes with the exciting plays we all love to see watching NFL games.