As NFL players get bigger, faster and stronger, it’s only natural that the tackles have become more powerful.
By PETE GRATHOFF
The Kansas City Star
Is there any surprise with the vast number of concussions? Last week, we investigated the effects of a concussion. This is about protecting the head.
In the early part of the 20th century, players wore leather helmets. In 1939, plastic football helmets were first introduced by the Riddell Company and are still used today.
The idea of the helmet is lessen the blow to the head as much as possible. That’s simple enough. But what does that mean?
When a linebacker comes barreling down on a quarterback, he can unleash as much as 1,500 pounds of tackling force. The job of the pads and helmet is to dissipate that force so that the hit doesn’t affect one particular part of the body too strongly. That’s especially important when dealing with the head.
All helmet makers are quick to note that no helmet is guaranteed to stop concussions from happening. However, tremendous strides have been made to ensure they are safer.
In fact, it begins with the basic shape of the helmet, said Glenn Beckmann, marketing and communications manager for Schutt Sports, which makes football helmets.
“That’s why helmets have the shape they do,” Beckmann said. “They’re rounded so when you have two rounded surfaces hit each other, they don’t stick. They kind of glance off like a rock skipping off water.”
While you can easily see the changes that have occurred in the outer shell of helmets through the years, the inner portion also has been altered during that time.
“You go way back and you had water-filled helmets that had bladders inside of them with water,” Beckmann said. “You had suspension helmets which just had a little harness inside and the helmet sat on top of the harness and there actually was air between your head and the helmet. But foam has been the defacto standard for 20 to 25 years until we introduced the TPU cushioning with Skydex in 2003.”
TPU is thermoplastic urethane. Schutt Sports uses the material, which is made by Skydex Industries, in helmets like the Ion 4D, which is pictured here.
Beckmann explained how TPU worked.
“Think if you had two clear tennis balls cut in half and you took those tennis balls and you put them together and you pushed from the outside, pushing those tennis balls together,” Beckmann said. “That’s where the resistance and the impact absorption comes in. We have thousands of hemispheres inside those cushions inside the helmet, and that’s what disperses and absorbs the force of the impact.”
In addition, that helmet has a faceguard that acts as a shock absorber. Beckmann said it can absorb about 15 percent more of an impact than a regular faceguard.
Yes, even facemasks can now help prevent concussions.
Other helmet makers have made impressive strides as well:
•Riddell’s Revolution helmet uses a protective shell that extends to the jaw area and a padding system that inflates and can be fitted to a player’s head. Riddell also has a helmet known as Revolution IQ Hits that takes advantage of a different kind of technology. According to Time magazine, the Revolution IQ Hits can “wirelessly relay real-time data — gleaned from the same sensors found in car air bags — to a sideline computer that can send a pager alert if a player receives a hit or a series of hits that exceed a certain magnitude.”
•According to Popular Science, the X1 helmet by Xenith LLC “relies on 18 thermoplastic shock absorbers filled with nothing but air that adapt depending how hard someone gets hit. A single hole allows the air to expel and the absorber to compress fully on all impacts.
“(Xenith CEO Vincent) Ferrara uses a bicycle pump to explain how the X1 works. Push down lightly and the air flows out smoothly into the tire, but slam down on the pump and it resists compression. By churning the air into a turbulent state, the absorber similarly stiffens for big impacts but allows air to flow out more easily on smaller hits.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
•For a history of the evolution of football helmets, go to: http://www.popularmechanics.com/content/imageview.cfm?img=http%3A//media.popularmechanics.com/images/evolution-of-the-helmet.jpg&caption=The%20Evolution%20of%20the%20Helmet
•For a look inside the X1 helmet by Xenith LLC, go to: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2007/10/26/sports/football/20071026_XENITH_GRAPHIC.html#step1
•For a look at Riddell’s Revolution IQ Hits, go to: http://www.technologyreview.com/player/07/09/10Sauser/1.aspx
To reach Pete Grathoff, send e-mail to email@example.com