Concussions remain a serious issue in sports, and with the recent White House concussion summit, the discussion has been raised a notch.
For the NFL and football at other levels, as well as other collision sports like hockey, the problem is existential. Youth football saw a significant decrease in participation, largely due to the perception of concussion issues. While concussions can never be prevented, they can be reduced.
While efforts like Heads Up Football are attempts to change the culture from the lowest levels up, those changes will take a generation to have an impact. Technological solutions, like new helmets and protective gear, have a chance to make changes quickly and progressively. Doing both could lead to a significant reduction, but the NFL hasn’t done much in the way of encouraging the technological changes in the past. New initiatives that the NFL has recently set up should help, but it will be years before those results make it to the field.
Luckily, some companies are doing it anyway. Riddell has long been a leader in the field, with its helmets remaining the most worn brand in the NFL for the past two decades. Riddell is introducing its newest helmet, called the SpeedFlex, this season. The helmet was tested in several locations, including some at the collegiate level, this spring, and the company expects to be unable to meet demand this fall.
Thad Ide, the senior vice president for research at Riddell, told me that with all the changes in the new SpeedFlex, “it still has to pass the mirror test.” Early users liked the look and the feel, he explained, with just enough noticeable differences to give it a cool factor. “We love it when someone says the helmet looks like something out of a Batman movie,” he said.