With just two weeks to go before the start of another NFL season, I couldn’t be less excited!
I’m a big sports fan, but when it comes to “football,” my roots make me loyal to the soccer ball, not the pigskin. And I struggle to sit through a 60-minute game that takes three hours to finish, while Corporate America shoehorns in as many obnoxious commercials as possible.
My thoughts aside, though, there is some good work being done to improve one of the NFL’s biggest problems – the number of concussions and post-traumatic brain injuries that affect players both during their careers and long after they’ve retired.
The game is littered with examples of players who suffer such problems later in life, including quarterback greats like Brett Favre and Troy Aikman. And earlier this year, 24-year-old San Francisco 49ers linebacker, Chris Borland, quit just one year into a four-year contract, citing long-term concerns over the health risks from head injuries.
Fortunately, we live in an age where technology is improving and helping address the problem…
Lies, Damn Lies… And Statistics
Depending on who you believe, the concussion climate in the NFL is either improving or still remains a big issue.
Plug “NFL concussion statistics” into Google, for example, and displayed prominently at the top of the page, you’ll find a story stating that NFL concussions fell by 25% last season and by 36% over a three-year period. That’s according to the NFL, though, which hardly has a stellar record of acknowledging the seriousness of the problem, or addressing it.
According to FanSided, though, “one-third of all concussions aren’t included in the league’s official injury report.” And The New York Times says brain trauma affects one in three NFL players, with pro football players eight times more likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease than the broader population.
But regardless of who, or what, you believe, there’s no doubt that the situation still needs improvement.
Which is where the U.S. Army comes in…
Blunt Force… But No Trauma?
It’s called the Rate Actuated Strap – or RAT Strap, for short.
While it looks like a simple small paintbrush, it could actually prove vital in preventing the number of serious head injuries to NFL players.
The innovation comes from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. Dr. Eric Wetzel runs the team that developed it, and explains that despite its simple appearance, its “elastic material has this very special property that if you pull slowly on it, it’s easy to stretch and relaxes again, but if I jerk it quickly, it resists with much more force. In fact, it takes about 100 times more force to pull it quickly than to pull it slowly.”
The secret is in special thickening fluid inside the strap – a “liquid that has a weird property that if you flow it slowly, it has a low viscosity, but if you try to flow it quickly, it transforms into a solid-like material that resists flow. It’s very similar to concentrated corn starch in water, which kids sometimes make in science class.”
Behind the science, the strap’s ultimate goal is to slow the force with which a player’s head slams into the ground when he gets crunched in a heavy tackle.
Wetzel continues, “We envisioned integrating these straps with the head system, so that before the head strikes the ground, the straps will slow that head motion. It’s sort of like a shock absorber, so the head will strike the ground with less velocity and less force. That should be less force on the brain and be less likely to cause a brain injury.”
Take a look at the RAT Strap in action, as the head with the strap remains more stable after a hit than the one without it…
The RAT Strap is just one innovation resulting from the Head Health Challenge II – an initiative between the NFL, Under Armour (UA), and General Electric (GE) designed to create new technologies that better protect players from head injuries.
It’s essential work in cushioning the severity of heavy hits – and, in turn, the rate of concussions and post-traumatic cognitive problems for players.
If only someone could slow the rate of commercials during games!