Inside SportTechie’s PRO DAY: Exploring Helmet Technology and Innovation

Written by Joe Lemire, SportTechie

At the center of the conversation about brain health and CTE is a debate about the efficacy of helmets: can they protect not just the skull from fractures but also shield the brain from short-term injuries and long-term neurocognitive diseases?

Antonio Brown inspired a multitude of headlines this summer, from the serious to the farcical, for his insistence on wearing a helmet that the NFL had deemed unsafe. The former Steelers/Raiders/Patriots wide receiver filed and ultimately lost two grievances because the league had ruled that 10 helmet models were prohibited due to their poor performance in laboratory testing.

The NFL and its players’ association have commissioned annual tests to simulate concussive impacts and determine which helmets offer the best protection. Speaking at SportTechie’s Helmet & Technology Innovation PRO DAY last week in Washington, D.C., Jeff Crandall, the chair of the NFL’s Engineering Committee, said he believes that—based on the physics of lab testing and the on-field game data—there has been progress in this area. “We should all have an understanding that helmets reduce concussions,” Crandall said. “It’s statistically significant. They are part of the solution.”

At the center of the conversation about brain health and CTE is a debate about the efficacy of helmets: can they protect not just the skull from fractures but also shield the brain from short-term injuries and long-term neurocognitive diseases?

Antonio Brown inspired a multitude of headlines this summer, from the serious to the farcical, for his insistence on wearing a helmet that the NFL had deemed unsafe. The former Steelers/Raiders/Patriots wide receiver filed and ultimately lost two grievances because the league had ruled that 10 helmet models were prohibited due to their poor performance in laboratory testing.

The NFL and its players’ association have commissioned annual tests to simulate concussive impacts and determine which helmets offer the best protection. Speaking at SportTechie’s Helmet & Technology Innovation PRO DAY last week in Washington, D.C., Jeff Crandall, the chair of the NFL’s Engineering Committee, said he believes that—based on the physics of lab testing and the on-field game data—there has been progress in this area. “We should all have an understanding that helmets reduce concussions,” Crandall said. “It’s statistically significant. They are part of the solution.”

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Historically, the main purpose of helmets has been to prevent catastrophic injuries such as skull fractures. But Robert Stern, the director of clinical research at the BU CTE Center, says he is “skeptical” that helmets can prevent brain trauma inside the skull. Some of Stern’s most recent research, published earlier this month by the Annals of Neurology, found a strong correlation between the duration of a football player’s time on the field and the likelihood of developing CTE. Every 2.6 years of playing the sport doubled those chances, independent of the number of diagnosed concussions. The culprit, he says, are the regular, subconcussive impacts.

“That repetitive trauma appears to start this cascade of changes in the brain,” Stern said at SportTechie’s PRO DAY. “That eventually starts to progress and eventually leads to the destruction of brain tissue and eventually, therefore, leads to the symptoms as someone gets older.”

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