Helmets and Technology: is Safer Football a possible reality?

Few things are as American as Buffalo wings and Super Bowl Sunday. But as scientific studies uncover the debilitating long-term effects of contact sports, there is uncertainty about the longevity of football in American society.  Football players are at a high risk of developing Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease caused by repetitive brain trauma. In 2011, former NFL defensive back David “Dave” Duerson took his own life because the devastating symptoms of CTE – from depression, mood swings, and memory loss – proved too much to bear. His son Tregg Duerson has since become a fierce proponent of safer football initiatives to reduce the risk of CTE among NFL and aspiring football players, especially since there is no cure for the disease and its effects worsen with time.

Football is becoming more competitive as its players get bigger, faster, and stronger. However, this also means a greater likelihood of injury. On average, players are exposed to 50-60 violent blows to the head in one professional game, according to a study by Stanford University. Players can develop concussions as a result of these blows but a Boston University study found that even without signs of concussion, repetitive hits to the head can lead to CTE. Players are at risk, not just in the NFL or big games like the Super Bowl, but also in college-level and high school-level games and practices. Since no definite diagnosis of CTE can be made until after the patient has died – although scientists are experimenting with ways to improve detection prior to death – preventative measures are necessary.

In some ways, avoiding football is the safest guarantee. Legislation in Illinois and New York have already been introduced to ban football among pre-teens, thereby mitigating the risk of repetitive head trauma among young players whose brains are still in development. Parents are increasingly resistant to enrolling their children in football because of these dangers. Justin Timberlake reportedly stated of his 2-year-old son Silas, “Uh, he will never play football. No, no”.

Even so, it is unlikely the sport will disappear altogether from American culture. Helmet technology, for one, has improved drastically in the past year alone. Vicis, for example, was formed in 2013 by neurosurgeons and engineers. It released its Zero 1 helmet last season which is designed with a tighter fit and with plastic columns in the helmet shell that compress and shift to deflect the impact of a blow to the head.  Riddell likewise developed its Precision Fit helmet which is customized for each individual player to provide better protection. As well, the company designed an InSite monitoring system that measures the head-impact exposure of players, providing coaches and players with tools on how to improve a player’s style to reduce the likelihood of head injuries. Similarly, Prevent Biometrics introduced its Head Impact Monitor System (HIMS) which uses sensors to detect collisions immediately and to notify players and coaches to seek medical attention when necessary.

These tools may become integral to the safer football initiative but they are not yet affordable for non-NFL leagues such as at the college or high school level. The Zero 1 helmet, for one, costs $950 per piece. The Riddell Precision Fit costs $1750.  Evidently, there is still room for improvement.

Are you experimenting with developing safer football helmets or monitoring tools that are more affordable and effective for football players? Did you know your experiments, even those that were unsuccessful, could be eligible for the R&D Tax Credit and you could receive 14% back on your expenses? To find out more, please contact a Swanson Reed R&D Specialist today or check out our free online eligibility test.

Swanson Reed regularly hosts free webinars and provides free IRS CE credits as well as CPE credits for CPA’s.  For more information please visit us at www.swansonreed.org/webinars or contact your usual Swanson Reed representative.

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