When New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning took the field for the first time during mini-camp this year, several fans were quick to point out that he was sporting a new helmet. It was noteworthy because Easy-E had been wearing the same traditional helmet since his time at Ole Miss, and the transition was unique and unexpected. Alas, he had decided it was time to upgrade and donned the brand new 2012 Schutt Sports Vengeance – the best looking and most revolutionary helmet on the market.
“Up until about two years ago, he was wearing the same helmet he had at Ole Miss,” Glenn Beckmann of Schutt Sports told Giants 101. “We finally convinced him to move to the AiR XP, and then he took that really vicious hit [against the Jets]. He then switched to the DNA, before moving to the Vengeance this season.”
Jacobs was the first to hit Manning, catching him under the chin and loosening his chinstrap. He was then blindsided by Jets linebacker Calvin Pace, popping the helmet off his head as he was flung forward where he clipped the helmet of safety Jim Leonard, opening a major gash on his forehead.
It was a terrifying moment -one the Jets later reveled in- but one that could have been much, much worse.
“The helmet absolutely did its job,” Beckmann said. “He got hit and then he got hit again, and the chinstrap slid off, resulting in the helmet coming off. We don’t like that he got cut, but he ultimately walked away without a serious injury.”
Head injuries, and namely concussions, have become a focal point of player safety across the NFL over the last several years. With the tragic deaths of Junior Seau, Dave Duerson, Ray Easterling and others, the issue has been thrust into the National spotlight. A common rallying cry has been that the NFL, and companies like Schutt Sports, need to develop better, concussion-proof helmets. Unfortunately, it's lost on many that the purpose of helmets aren't necessarily to protect the brain, but to protect the skull.
“It’s very easy to understand why people think that helmets do prevent concussions. It’s a head injury and the helmet is on your head,” Beckmann said. “Think about it as if you had an egg. You can shake that egg and not break the shell, but the yolk is still scrambled. We’ve figured out how to protect eggshells, but we’ve never been able to figure out to protect the yolk from being scrambled.”
That's not to say millions of dollars of research and countless hours of time haven't gone into creating a concussion-proof helmet, because that's the long-term goal of every helmet manufacturer. And eventually, it's something that's going to happen … but just not a realistic solution for the foreseeable future.
“The brain floats inside the skull, so in order to prevent concussions, we need to figure out how to slow the deceleration of the brain when there’s an impact. Somebody sometime is going to figure it out, and when they do, we'll have the first concussion-proof helmet," Beckmann said. “That’s the Holy Grail for all of us, but right now, with the technology and knowledge that we have, we just don’t have what it takes to get there. I do believe eventually we’ll get there, but I don’t know if it will be in our lifetime.”
Developments in helmet technology, including the "standoff," which is the space between a player's head and the helmet shell, as well as the padding that fills it, has aided in the prevention of concussions, but can't eliminate them completely. In some aspects, it's able to absorb the impact and help avoid a violent roll of the brain, but it all boils down to mathematics – angle of hits, acceleration and deceleration, torque, dehydration (does play a part in concussions) and so on.
“No helmet is concussion proof just by the nature of the injury itself. Helmets do two things. They protect the skull and absorb impact. The impact absorption is important, but we’ll never go so far as to say ‘this will reduce the risk of concussions,’ " Beckmann said. "It’s truthful to say we’re designing helmets to reduce the risk of concussion, but we won’t say that helmets can reduce the risk of concussion because there are too many factors that helmets don’t have an effect on."
"We want to educate people on what helmets can and can’t do, but we also want to avoid a false sense of security that if people get a higher grade of helmet that they’re not going to get hurt …because that’s just not true.”
Until recently, players were equally as misinformed about the purpose and functionality of helmets as the casual fan was. Schutt Sports commonly received requests for concussion-proof helmets from NFL players … many of whom had no idea no such product existed. In fact, it wasn't until the recent media attention, spawned from the deaths of the aforementioned players, that current athlete's began educate themselves on their own equipment.
Research and development of that "Holy Grail" will continue, but ultimately the safety of a player comes down to what happens on the field. A good helmet will prevent damage to the skull, but a concussion will and any variety of neck injury remain a very realistic possibility due in large part to the violence and speed of the sport itself. And until scientists can figure out how to stabilize a floating brain, no helmet in this world is going to stop a player from sustaining a brain injury.
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