- Feb 2, 2006
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Coming soon to a stadium near you...
NFL Future: Bionic Football Helmet
Hollywood, FL -- Football helmets that measure the force with which a player is hit, as well as read vital signs such as his body temperature and heart rate, may someday become standard equipment for football players, says Tony Egues, Head Equipment Manager for the Miami Dolphins professional football team.
At a presentation given Thursday during a meeting of NFL and NCAA team physicians and athletic trainers in Hollywood, Florida, Mr. Egues estimated that in the next three to five years helmet design and safety standards are likely to change.
This may include helmets which read core body temperature and measure heart rate in real time. These are currently being developed and tested in NCAA Division I teams and in several high school teams. "But much more research needs to be done before we will adopt that technology in the NFL," says Egues.
While the technology exists, Egues and other teams' personnel prefer to take a cautious approach. "Our job is to protect management's most important investment: its athletes," Egues says. "We have a responsibility to find the best equipment available and put it on our players. Although we want to incorporate the latest technology, we must make sure it is sound technology. We need scientific evidence to prove to us that it is a necessity to have this technology inside our players' helmets."
"Sideline Response System" technology -- measuring the impact to a player's head -- has been available for approximately two years, according to Egues.
It is a small monitoring device within a player's helmet that measures the G-force sustained by the head and sends that measurement to sideline personnel for evaluation. "Although the machine might tell you that a player sustained a significant impact," Egues says, "you can't rely solely on the machine's read-out. You don't want to take an athlete off the field just based on what a machine is telling you. You must still allow the team's physicians or medical staff to monitor the player's reactions and symptoms."
Helmet manufacturers have partnered with the NFL to conduct studies on helmet safety, specifically as it relates to mild traumatic brain injury (concussion), notes Mr. Egues.
With more sophisticated research leading to better helmet design, safety and function, Egues believes, we will see helmet changes in the very near future. He theorizes we will see specific helmets for specific positions and helmet designs based on a player's special needs. "But evolution is slow, and players are creatures of habit," he says. "Over the last decade we have made great strides in helmet design and safety. As research becomes more sophisticated, so, too, will the ability to make better helmets, and all football equipment, for that matter."
Although the plastic used to manufacture shoulder pads hasn't changed in 25 years, the way the pad is put together has improved player safety, Egues reports. Pads are constructed with more right angles in order to disperse impact. "The most significant technological advancement in pads is the material used to line the pad," Mr. Egues says, "Some shoulder pads are now lined with a foamy component called Visco which can withstand repeated impacts split-seconds apart, and the player will be protected." Pads have also become position-specific. Linebackers, who experience impact on every play, wear larger, thicker pads covering the acromioclavicular joint (a joint in the shoulder where the collarbone meets the shoulder blade). Wide receivers, who need speed and agility, wear smaller pads that hug the contours of the body.
As head equipment manager, Egues works hard to satisfy every player's desire for comfort. "In my opinion, comfort takes a back seat to safety," he says. "I'm more interested in how their equipment is going to protect them. When you compromise protection for the sake of comfort, you're asking for trouble."