Helmet Technology Aims To Better Protect Football Players
FRISCO, Texas — The battle to lessen the chances of concussions and better protect football players is a vital one – perhaps lying at the core of the future of the game. With the effects of multiple head impacts becoming more and more obvious (to most everyone except North Carolina coach Larry Fedora), efforts to limit those negative consequences range from rules designed to lessen the number of hits to the head to better protective equipment.
One component of the latter was on display at the Big 12’s football media days, when commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced an initiative with a helmet-maker that hopes to lessen the shocks transmitted through the head from hits.
“The VICIS helmet has been rated number one and number two by all the rating services. It is a safer helmet,” Bowlsby said during his podium speech. “It’s one that is a little heavier and it takes a little getting used to, but we are the first conference-wide partnership with VICIS and they are making a terrific product. Obviously we care deeply about head trauma and representative use. We’re very excited about the partnership.
“We have worked out a deal with the manufacturer to get about 15 of those helmets at a reduced price to every team in the league,” Bowlsby said (the list price is $950). “These are the top-rated helmets out there right now. They are heavier, but the shell is a little softer, and that is supposed to help cushion the impact more, like a bumper on a car.”
According to the VICIS website (multiple requests to speak with company representatives went unanswered) the new ZERO1 model has several different technologies to help slow and disperse impact forces.
“The helmet features a soft outer shell and an underlying layer of columns designed to mitigate collisions from multiple directions,” the site reads. “It oﬀers 300 diﬀerent sizing combinations, eliminating the need for shims and air bladders, and taking comfort and safety to a new level.”
West Virginia’s players in attendance hadn’t heard about the new helmets yet, but were quick to check out the model that was on display. They quickly noted the added weight, but also commented on the softer outer shell, which has a slight cushioned feel to it, as opposed to the very rigid shell on most other current models. This feature is one of the items that is supposed to make the helmet safer and help lessen the effects of direct impacts.
Also a point of discussion was the padding inside, which again differs somewhat from other helmets on the market. It’s designed to allow a closer, more even fit all the way around the head, and to further lesson the shock waves that are transmitted to the head when impacts occur. While no helmet is perfect in this regard, telemetry and testing have shown that the ZERO1 is better at limiting those forces. Real-world measurements are needed in order to back up the laboratory testing, which Bowlsby indicates will not be a league-mandated process.
“It’s up to the teams on how they use them, and what they monitor or how they give feedback on them,” Bowlsby said later. “We want to make sure that we are protecting the players as well as we can and giving them everything we can to help.”
For their part, West Virginia’s players expressed interest in trying them out, but noted that a helmet is a very personal thing, with fit and comfort also factoring into the equation in terms of selection. WVU offers its players a few different models of helmets, but obviously cost comes into the equation as well in terms of how many can be on hand at any particular time. The new ZERO1, without promising to eliminate concussions, does appear to be a positive next step on the protection front. Notre Dame is set to outfit its entire team with it this year.
The path to producing a better helmet hasn’t been without its bumps. VICIS produced a first model in 2016 and provided it to both Oregon and Washington, but received complaints about its fit and comfort level. Refreshingly, the company did not fire back or try to deflect the criticism. Instead, it took the models back, and using feedback from the players involved, redesigned the interior of the helmet and the chinstrap attachment points, among other modifications.
“This is not a surprise. We expected the need for refinements,” VICIS said at the time. “On-field use revealed opportunities for improvement regarding comfort and fit. We’re assessing the design changes and will make the helmet available for player use as soon as we’re satisfied with the changes.”
With those complete and in production, a more wide distribution is set for this season, including more NFL teams. Among the VICIS investors are Dallas Cowboys Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach and current Seattle Seahawk signalcaller Russell Wilson. He wore the redesigned helmet during 2017, and was so impressed with it that he participated in the company’s latest round of fundraising.