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A Better, Safer Football Helmet?

February 29, 2016 Brain Injuries

football helmetA company is close to making available a new football helmet specifically designed to reduce the risk and severity of concussions and traumatic brain injury (TBI). The ZERO1 helmet, developed by Seattle-based VICIS is the result of millions of dollars of investment and several years of research involving current and former NFL players and coaches, neurosurgeons, and engineers. The helmet, which is expected to be tested by NCAA and NFL teams this spring and become available commercially for the 2016 football season, is seen by the company as a major advance toward reducing brain injuries on the field.

Concussion and TBI

Traumatic brain injury is a serious problem in football and other sports. A number of high-profile reports have covered the long term issue of TBI and a related condition, CTE, because of how they have affected the lives of many NFL players. But these head injury problems are not exclusive to football players, or to adults.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rates TBI as a contributing factor in 30% of all injury deaths in the US each year, accounting for more than a quarter million hospitalizations and over 2.2 million emergency room visits. The majority of these are accident- or assault-related, but sports injuries, especially in younger Americans, have been on the rise in recent years. In the previous decade, the rate of sports-related TBI in those under age 20 rose by nearly 60% and accounted for nearly 250,000 emergency room visits in 2009.

TBI can have both immediate and lifelong impacts. It’s a problem that, fortunately, is being taken much more seriously today than in the past.

New Technology for Safety

The manufacturer of the ZERO1 helmet views it as a technology breakthrough. Helmet design, the company says, has not advanced significantly since the 1970s. Taking cues from how car safety features, such as crumple zones and airbags, work to protect vehicle occupants the designers sought to produce a helmet which provides maximum protection to its ‘vehicle occupant:’ a player’s brain.

Citing concussion as “a major public health problem” and noting that “any concussion is a concussion too many,” VICIS used extensive testing and computer modeling to develop a helmet that makes use of a special impact-absorbing layer to respond to blows from any angle in any location. Unlike typical helmets, which offer limited sizes, the ZERO1 will be initially introduced with 12 different sizing options. This better fit means that the helmet protects the player’s head with uniform pressure, which is one of the techniques used to reduce acceleration from impact.

The founders of the company feel passionately about both football and safety. “The game is in danger,” one says in a VICIS promotional video. The ZERO1 is their contribution to keeping football alive and well – and safe – into the future.

The initial cost of the ZERO1 is expected to be around $1500. While that’s nearly four times the cost of today’s top-of-the-line helmets, VICIS reports that the college and professional teams it’s working with have not balked at the price tag. The company is hoping to bring the cost of the helmet down in the future, and is already planning to release a more affordable model for high school and younger athletes in 2017.

Educating Youth Athletes and Parents

Through its Heads Up program, the CDC offers a number of free resources to youth sports organizations and parents that explain the dangers of head injuries, how to prevent them, and what actions to take when one occurs. If there’s a youth athlete in your family, you should take advantage of this information to understand the risks and how to respond.

Brain Injury Risks Remain

It is good news that technology like the ZERO1 will soon be available to athletes, but until it and similar protections become widely available, the risk of brain injury to youth athletes will continue to be a serious concern. The law firm of Wilson Kehoe Winingham has experience with brain injury cases and can help you navigate through the challenges. Talk to us if you need advice regarding a potential brain injury lawsuit. Call us at 317-920-6400 or contact us online for a free consultation.

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