One positive development on player-safety front that seems likely to satisfy all interested parties is the NFL’s XPRIZE-like initiative known as the Head Health Challenge. The NFL, together with some of its corporate partners, committed “up to $20 million to fund innovative solutions that will help” to “advance the development of technologies that can detect early stage mild traumatic brain injuries and improve brain protection.”
Earlier this month, the league announced seven new Head Health Challenge winners, each of which received $500,000 (and the opportunity to receive an additional $1,000,000) toward the further development of their proposed safety technology. The winners included a government agency, universities, and private companies. The winners’ proposals include new helmet technology, of course, but they go beyond that to address improvements in on-field concussion diagnostics and changes to the playing surface itself. Each winner created a short video to explain its project, and the videos from Emory University in Atlanta and Viconic Sporting, Inc., a Dearborn, Michigan-based company that draws technological inspiration from the automotive industry, are illustrative of the latter two proposals:
One of the implicit promises of projects like these is that they offer a means to improving player safety without altering the way the game is played, something that is likely to satisfy players and fans alike.
It is apparent from the deaths and life-changing injuries of players such as Dave Duerson, Junior Seau, and Mike Utley that the NFL has plenty of ground to make up in this area. While it is not clear whether or how soon the NFL or other football organizations will adopt any of these safety technologies, one message of the Head Health Challenge seems clear: if the league is willing to invest in the development of safety technology, it is likely to be met with a ready supply of implementable solutions.