Can technology rescue the NFL?

A variety of well-publicized incidents have kept the focus of NFL leaders on the correction of off-field problems this season, but player safety on the field remains an ongoing challenge for the league, particularly in the area of head injuries. Fans likely would agree that the success of the NFL’s approach to addressing head injuries has been mixed, both in terms of prioritization and implementation. Some have criticized rule modifications ostensibly designed to protect vulnerable players as fundamentally (and detrimentally) changing the game by neutering defenses. Others have been dismayed by the fact that the much-lauded NFL concussion settlement appears designed to excludemany players who have and will suffer from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease found in those with histories of repetitive brain trauma.

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:

Links to all of the winners’ videos are available here.

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.


1 thought on “Can technology rescue the NFL?

  1. Pingback: Super Bowl XLIX Preview | ALDLAND

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