Football is a game of simple physics: One player has a ball, and the other players on the field are trying to either protect the ball carrier or tackle them. The majority of the time, this interaction happens at high speed — speeds so fast that the parties involved collide into each other with a G-Force equivalent to a bowling ball being dropped on a head from 8 feet high.
Bone-crushing hits and flying tackles are all part of what makes the sports fun to watch. That being said, football is a beautifully violent game, which is the reason why so many Americans simultaneously appreciate and fear the sport. It’s the reason people cheer when a cornerback like Richard Sherman makes a tackle or a linebacker hits their opponent hard enough that they retire from the sport. It’s also the reason why one in three players will experience some form of brain trauma during their career. On a professional level, the number of concussions diagnosed in the National Football League (NFL) has increased by 58 percent during the regular season. Kids, however, have also been reported to experience brain injuries while on the field.
Football has a serious problem with head injuries, and after years of outright denial, organizations across the country are finally acknowledging it through payouts, research grants, and initiatives like the Head Health Challenge, which gives grants to companies working on advancements in football-related head health. One of those grant recipients was VICIS, a Seattle based company who’s designed a new, flexible helmet called Zero1.
What’s inside the helmet?
VICIS helmets use a form of engineering that is unique from how helmets have been made in the past. According to their website, the helmet is made with layers (like a parfait), and those layers work together to lessen the impact of a hit, both as they occur and over a period of time. The helmet also features a soft outer shell and an underlying layer of columns designed to weaken collisions from multiple directions.
Columns: The columns refer to the VICIS reflex system. The helmet, for instance, is designed with a series of plates that work to help reduce the trauma behind major collisions. As the helmet starts to fold and yield, it absorbs the blow from a hit and redistributes it throughout the rest of the helmet, rather than just simply dividing the impact around the player’s head.
Field of View (FOV): The helmet is also designed to expand the normal field of view for players, in order to keep your head on the swivel and avoid unexpected hits. When players are blindsided, it often results in injuries, so expected FOV will let athletes preempt big hits so that they can brace accordingly.
Argon Faceguards: Face masks are made of titanium, which is essentially a norm for this type of development, but the face mask is bathed in Argon gas to purge oxygen. Oxygenized face masks are corroded, which can lead to weaker faceguards. So, in order to prevent a player’s face mask from falling off during a game due to excessive corroding, VICIS tests the face mask beforehand.
Atomic Number 22 (Titanium): Remember the straps that hold the chin straps up on traditional helmets? They’re gone. Replaced with titanium studs in order to improve both fit and comfort of the helmet. A snug helmet is a safe helmet.
Comfort: This cool, innovative helmet is equipped with 300 sizing options, and it doesn’t use air bladders. The customization of the helmet is a pivotal part of the draw, as players can get a perfect fit on their helmet without needing artificial padding stuffed on top of their helmet itself. This allows the helmet to do its job on its own terms.
Since its release date, the helmet has done extremely well in game time action. In fact, it’s been ranked the number one helmet by the NFL and the NFLPA in terms of safety. As of now, the company’s focus is primarily on the elite level, but they do plan on shifting their focus to accommodate everyone in the near future.
Nevertheless, as the issues of concussions continue to be the elephant in the room (or locker room), it’s a welcome sight to see so many different companies interested in making a difference. Whether it’s revolutionary mouth guards designed to determine the amount of impact absorbed during a big collision, or a new helmet like the one described above, it’s clear now that safety is of the utmost importance in the world of sports today. Although it’s clear this type of investment should have been around decades ago, it’s refreshing to see it gaining so much momentum.
We’ve all heard of the saying, “There’s no ‘I’ in team.” Football, soccer, and hockey are just a few sports that rely on team bonding. Protecting athletes, especially young ones, needs to be a top priority for everyone at this point from teachers, to parents, to coaches. Although head traumas and concussions can’t be prevented in violent sports, they can, however, be minimized through new technological development and proper training.