A new trend that has emerged in the past few years is the soft-shelled football helmet cover, which was designed to reduce the impact of head injuries to players.
The soft-shelled football helmet covers that are used by NFL teams are called “Guardian Caps.” They are made of a buckram material that has flame retardant properties. They are worn to protect the skull from whiplash, to prevent concussions, and to provide an extra layer of padding between the player’s head and the helmet.
So, “head injuries” is an overused term (e.g. concussions, brain injuries, etc.). But, if you take it literally, wouldn’t “head” refer to the head, and “injuries” refer to injuries? So, is “head injuries” making more of a statement than necessary?
Is it true that protective shells worn over helmets, such as the ones worn by Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Matt Skura (62) and Tyler Gauthier (75), decrease the danger of head injuries? Getty Images/Mark Brown
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina —
Matt Paradis of the Carolina Panthers was one of approximately 100 NFL players who showed up for the first padded session of training camp wearing a big, soft-shelled cover over his helmet, giving him the look of a “Star Wars” stormtrooper.
With a chuckle, Paradis remarked, “Squishy helmet.”
Officially, the Guardian Cap.
Last season, Paradis, 31, was given the chance to wear the shell, which is intended to decrease impact energy and prevent head injuries. He didn’t, but in the offseason, he came to the following easy conclusion: “The research shows it helps, so it’s not really a discussion at that point.”
What, on the other hand, have scientific studies shown regarding the efficacy of Guardian Caps in decreasing the energy of blows to NFL players’ heads?
When the NFL agreed to go ahead with on-field cap testing in August 2020, ESPN.com acquired a copy of a letter the league issued to club doctors, chief athletic trainers, and equipment managers.
The Guardian Cap and Defend Your Head ProTech Helmet Cap were selected in a joint effort between the NFL and NFLPA to be evaluated by Biomechanics Consulting and Research under the supervision of Dr. Ann Bailey Good, a senior mechanical engineer with Biocore, according to the letter.
From 2015 to 2019, researchers evaluated helmets with and without the cap under circumstances that mimicked impacts experienced by NFL players during games. The testing were carried out on the same linear-impactor equipment that is utilized in the annual NFL-NFLPA bare-helmet performance assessments.
The experiments utilized two impact velocities and three impact locations: front, side, and upper, in an effort to replicate the average impact speed and concussive impacts that offensive and defensive linemen face in games.
In comparison to a bare helmet, statistical analysis of the weighted data revealed that the helmet with the Guardian Cap reduced force impact by 9% on average. For the ProTech, the average decrease was 5%. Additional testing this year showed that the Guardian Cap has been reduced by 10% on average.
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Erin and Lee Hanson, who developed the Guardian Cap a decade ago, say that the decrease has been tested up to 33 percent for high school athletes who aren’t as large or quick.
The NFL authorized the usage of the cap in practice for offensive and defensive linemen this year after the Jacksonville Jaguars experimented with it in 2020. It was discovered that throughout a week of practice, those teams had more helmet impacts than they do during a game. The cap may potentially help decrease the incidence of concussions, even though it is not promoted as a concussion-prevention device.
The NFL did not proceed with the caps without the NFL Players Association’s permission. In 2021, the NFLPA permitted players to utilize the cap for practice on a voluntary basis, according to a representative for ESPN.com. On a trial basis, twenty-three teams started camp with the caps.
“When someone has a helmet impact, a ten percent reduction in power is significant,” said Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president of health and safety initiatives. “We’ll have a better understanding of it after this year, when we know how many players use it, how often they use it, and how our concussion statistics look at certain positions.”
The Guardian Cap is still in its early phases of development.
When training camp started this year, Carolina Panthers center Matt Paradis began wearing the newest iteration of a Guardian Cap over his regular helmet. Newton, David
In the mid-1990s, Erin and Lee Hanson founded a material science firm to allow them the flexibility to design products and solve issues for other businesses. They weren’t interested in getting into football until 2010, when they were contacted about creating a flexible shell for helmets.
This was a year before a Pittsburgh injury law firm filed the first concussion lawsuit against the NFL, representing 120 former players, and five years before the film “Concussion,” in which forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, played by Will Smith, battled the NFL over the suppression of his research on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a debilitating brain disease that can cause a variety of symptoms.
The hat, according to Erin Hansen, was “far ahead of its time.”
The original cap had a fixed strap, but there was so much movement that the straps snapped. Elastic straps were added next, allowing for mobility, but the facemask still popped off the snaps.
In 2017, a rubber flap was placed over the straps, as well as Velcro, for additional security. The cap won the first NFL HeadHealthTECH Challenge that year, a competition sponsored by the league to encourage the creation of new equipment.
The league has put the helmet through rigorous testing since then. The current cap, known as Guardian NXT, was created with the NFL in mind. It features extra cushioning and glides over the helmet, giving it the appearance of “floating” on top of it.
Because the cap floats, it moves with the helmet, reducing the danger of neck injury.
Will NFL games utilize add-on helmet tops in the future?
It may take many years for the NFL to have enough data to evaluate the full worth of the hats and if they are successful enough to be worn in games. One disadvantage has been that the caps do not deflect as well as the rigid helmets that produce a glancing hit. A neck injury is somewhat more likely as a result of this.
“There are still certain things we don’t know about how that gadget would behave in an uncontrolled environment,” Good said. “It will be critical to get that input before deciding whether or not it should be utilized in games.”
“It’s a bit less predictable to understand the chaotic environment.”
Dr. Katherine Breedlove, a research associate at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston who studies sports-related concussions, found that the risk of neck damage was low in a 2017 independent study.
Another issue, she added, is that the foam in the cap doesn’t bounce quickly enough “so that each time it’s struck, it’s in its best condition.”
“‘Yes, maybe [it helps minimize concussions],’ says the data from my study, and therefore we need to learn more,” she adds. “No, it’s not conclusive. But it isn’t a resounding yes. “Perhaps this will assist the NFL in doing this focused sampling.”
Add-on shells are becoming more popular at all levels of football.
After quarterback Matthew Stafford’s surgically repaired thumb collided with a defensive lineman’s hard-shelled helmet in practice, Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay recognized an additional advantage to having his linemen wear Guardian Caps. Icon Sportswire/Jevone Moore
The shells were first used by youth leagues and high schools in the early phases of development. Colleges quickly followed, with South Carolina leading the way in 2012 under Steve Spurrier’s coaching and Clint Haggard’s athletic training.
According to the Guardian, they are now used by over 200 institutions.
But it wasn’t until the NFL issued a letter stating that the cap had been evaluated for linemen and that clubs were allowed to use it that the caps gained the public attention they currently have.
Several former NFL players, including Atlanta’s Jerome Bettis, Tim Lester, and Fred McCrary, have visited the Hansons to discuss obtaining the hats for their children and youth teams since they experienced what life was like as players.
The Hansons recently demonstrated the hat to former NFL cornerback Deion Sanders, who is currently the head coach at Jackson State.
When training camp started, the Los Angeles Rams were not wearing the Guardian Cap. That changed when quarterback Matthew Stafford collided with a defensive lineman’s hard helmet with his surgically healed thumb.
As a result, the soft cap serves a dual function.
Sean McVay, the coach, described it as a “heightened feeling of urgency.”
“”It was a strange occurrence, but it happens all the time,” McVay added. “It’s one of those situations where I’m thinking to myself, ‘Man, I feel dumb for not doing anything to avoid that.’
The noises in practice alone indicate that there is a distinction. When two helmets meet, there is a soft thud instead of the typical piercing crack.
“When players aren’t wearing them, it sounds different,” Paradis remarked.
That persuaded the center to keep wearing the cap, despite the fact that many teammates had abandoned it since it was hotter and heavier than simply the helmet. Derrick Brown, a 2020 first-round selection, was one of those who came to a halt, citing a personal choice.
“We’re talking about the brain, after all,” Paradis said. “There’s a lot that goes into it, and there’s a lot we don’t know. It’s almost as if it’s accessible at this point, it helps statistically, and it helps decrease that force, so I may as well try it.”
Is it true that minimizing head hits reduces concussions?
It’s one thing to limit head injuries in the more controlled setting of practice, but it’s quite another to do so in the frenetic, violent action of a real NFL game. Getty Images/Jamie Squire
Dr. Kristy Arbogas is a concussion researcher who has worked as an NFLPA injury prevention consultant for the last six years. She is also the director of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Injury and Prevention Research Center, which focuses on children’s sports concussions.
She said the Guardian Cap is one of several layers that have been implemented to help prevent concussions, including fewer padded practices, better helmet design, and regulation modifications like as punishing helmet-to-helmet contact.
“The cap, we really believe, plays an important role,” Arbogast added. “If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have suggested it to head coaches. Is it possible for me to offer you a figure that will minimize five concussions? No.”
Arbogast, on the other hand, is confident that the cap will assist.
“For decades, it has been known that acceleration, whether linear or rotational, is what causes brain damage,” she added. “With these helmet coverings, we’ve shown that the amount of acceleration may be reduced. That, we think, will be a superior option. It’s not going to make things any worse.
“We’ve used a similar strategy to all of our previous initiatives. That is, if there is anything we can do to minimize the high-acceleration effects players experience, it would be beneficial. That’s exactly what this does, as far as we know.”
However, since there are so many variables surrounding brain damage, there is no clear explanation for how a 10% decrease in force may assist with concussions.
“It’s easy to believe that the harder the hit, the more likely and severe the concussion — but studies show that many factors contribute to a concussion, including force, location of impact, brain development, and previous history of head injuries,” said Dr. Samuel Quaynor, who completed a fellowship in sports neurology, headache, and concussion at LifeBridge Health Sports Medicine Institute in Baltimor.
“… A 10% decrease in force to the football helmet and head may be somewhat helpful for players in general, but it may not lessen concussion for every player since studies indicate there is no direct connection between force and concussion severity for every player.”
The future usage of Guardian Caps will be determined by further testing.
Carolina coach Matt Rhule was persuaded to give the cap to his players after hearing from Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, during the summer.
“It just reduces the head force,” Rhule said. “‘Let’s try it for our sake,’ several of the offensive and defensive line leadership urged.
More advanced testing, which better simulates the hectic atmosphere of NFL play, also helped Rhule and others market their products.
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“When asked why it took the NFL so long to get on board, Erin Hanson replied, “Back in 2010, the standard for football helmets was termed a drop test.” “This is done by slamming a helmet against a plate and measuring the force.
“However, not a single football player falls from the skies onto his head.” As testing has progressed, rotating forces are now being used. The NFL has spent a significant amount of money recreating hits.”
That started in 2017, when researchers began testing the efficacy of the cap — and helmet — on blows from all angles using a pneumatic ram and movable table.
The technology in the NFL has progressed to the point that some players now have sensors in their mouth guards that give data on impact. This is knowledge that can’t be duplicated in a lab.
“We looked at over a thousand on-field concussions and attempted to replicate [the impacts] in the lab,” Miller said. “The Guardian Cap was added to the helmet hits in the lab, and the pressures that the Guardian Caps prevented from reaching the helmet in the head were measured.”
The mouth-guard sensors, according to Good and Breedlove, offer more accurate data since they are located centrally closer to the brain than sensors on the helmet’s surface.
When the NFL decides whether or not to give the caps to other positions next year, Miller believes that collecting input and statistics from real usage will be even more helpful.
Dr. Casey Batten of the Rams stated the players have given him no reason to believe the caps have a negative impact.
“We haven’t received any complaints save for the first few days when players grumbled about it sliding or looking weird in the shadows,” he added. “It hasn’t caused us any problems.”
The “honest answer is we don’t know” if the caps will help reduce concussions or brain injuries, according to Batten.
He emphasized that the cap is still in its early phases of development, and that the outcomes of this season would be used to decide if the league extends its usage to other positions in the future.
“To truly make heads or tails of whether the Guardian Cap is decreasing concussions or not, you’d have to look at many seasons from now on,” he added. “We’re simply trying to figure out how this works in practice.”
Lindsey Thiry of ESPN’s Los Angeles Rams contributed to this report.
Sports fans and kids in particular love football and most of them would agree that wearing a soft-shelled football helmet cover is a fun and safe way to play. However, the problem is the helmet cover isn’t always effective at protecting the child’s head from concussions and other injuries.. Read more about football helmet protector and let us know what you think.
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