As the NFL works with researchers to determine any possible links between the game football and brain injuries, much of the attention has centered on equipment manufacturers trying to make a safer helmet. It’s an endeavor that has become “football’s holy grail”, writes Jesse Hicks at The Verge.
Protecting the head means protecting the brain, the intuition goes, so a race has begun to build a better helmet. But it’s not an easy problem to solve. Football is a contact sport, with players who are almost by definition physical anomalies: they are stronger and faster than average human beings, and they’re stronger and faster than they were even a decade ago.
To date, most improvements in helmets have involved adding more padding or including more advanced forms of padding. However, a new type of helmet developed in Sweden could help reduce concussions by rotating slightly around a player’s head, rather than pulling the skull and brain along with it. Yet Hicks writes that it’s a development that might never see an NFL locker room.
The Swedish helmets haven’t yet broken into the NFL, and may never do so, for a number of political, legal, and economic reasons. The league is, after all, a large, money-making machine with its own firmly entrenched interests. One of those interests is the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, or NOCSAE, which wrote the standard governing football helmets in 1973. By 1980 the standard had been phased in at all levels of the game. Since then, of course, the game has changed: players have gotten bigger and stronger, and concussion rates have increased.
…NOCSAE, it should be mentioned, is a volunteer consortium that includes, and receives most of its funding from, you guessed it, the helmet makers. Critics claim NOCSAE is slow to update its standards;admitting that today?s helmets aren’t up to snuff could have potential legal ramifications, and force the manufacturers into difficult positions regarding their safety claims.
– Marcas Grant, contributing editor