Do ‘smart’ helmets hold key for football player’s safety?

Head injuries in football are a hot topic in the media these days, and for good reason. Reports are continually released, detailing the rises in concussion rates and other brain injuries in youth, high school and professional football.

Many fault the NFL for covering up the dangers and allowing players to make the judgment call to resume playing after sustaining a blow to the head. President Obama announced his hesitation about youth playing the physical sport and addressed the growing concerns at a White House Summit.

Some believe the efforts, including a $30 million concussion study by the NCAA and Department of Defense, serve as a PR stunt attempting to divert attention from the topic. In fact, while we’re trying to remove the “suck it up” stigma from contact sports, many believe it’s an empty effort.

Riddell, the company that supplies two-thirds of the helmets for the NFL, developed a new ‘smart’ helmet for use in the 2014 season. A sensor in the helmet sends data to the sidelines if a player sustains an unusually hard hit, allowing a better evaluation and removal from the game if necessary.

The helmets, unfortunately, aren’t foolproof. When tested, sometime they failed to register a blow when dropped from five feet. Moreover, they can’t actually diagnose injuries; simply provide more information about whether or not a player can remain in the game.

Helmets in general aren’t the solution to ending concussions and other brain injuries in football. A study published in 2013 found that while they decrease the risk of brain injury, there isn’t any evidence to suggest they actually protect or help fight the effects of long-term head trauma.

In fact, Riddell is cited as a defendant in many of the current lawsuits against the NFL.

It seems like we’re scrambling, trying to find information fast to help protect the players. Hopefully some of these methods actually pan out and allow solutions to make football safer, but only time will tell.


Boston Globe. (2014). Obama’s concussion summit: Sucking it up. [Link]

Gammons, M. R. (2013). Helmets in sport: Fact and fallacy. American College of Sports Medicine. [Link]

Griggs, B. (2014). ‘Smart’ football helmet may help detect concussions. CNN. [Link]

NCAA. (2014). NCAA, DoD launch concussion study. [Link]