Innovation in Football

During Chicago ideas week, I went to a discussion on the future of football. The panel, which included former NFL players Otis Wilson and Warren Sapp, primarily spoke of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Bennet Omalu, a neuropathologist also present on the panel, was the first to identify and publish his findings on CTE in 2005. In the journal, Omalu defined CTE as a degenerative disease caused by the “long-term neurologic consequences of repetitive concussive and subconcussive blows to the brain.”

Among all present, there was a consensus that football is incredibly dangerous and that change is both inevitable and necessary. Such changes could include eliminating tackling from the sport through middle school, then eliminating from practice in high school teams and beyond. A huge responsibility for change is on the coaches. Drills and lessons are going to have new priorities, with an emphasis on safety and quality; as Otis said at the discussion, “We’re already tough, we don’t need drills to make us tougher.”

While I think the conversation that took place was immensely important and should be had with a larger audience, that is not my intention with this post. During the talk I kept thinking about design’s role in the game and the products the players rely on for safety. I wondered how it could be that I had just watched yet another video of an autonomous vehicle, but I hear very little about innovation in the equipment we see on football players every week.

With football being ingrained in the American DNA, I can only feel like we are letting down the players both young and old. As long as the sport is still being played, we should never stop innovating and finding opportunities to protect the players we love. These athletes should never feel like they are sacrificing their health to do their job and provide use with our beloved sport; yet right now, that is exactly how they feel.

Join the designers, engineers, coaches, and everyone else already working towards making football as safe as it can be. Below is a collection of products and companies that are currently working within this much needed space. Invest, design, and be inspired to contribute!

Mobile Virtual Player
The first ever self-righting mobile training device. Controlled remotely and powered by a motor, it’s an innovative training partner that can move at the speed of your opponent. With its size, which has been specifically engineered to replicate the weight and height of a college or pro player, the MVP can take a hit. By simulating human motion, the MVP allows players to practice tackling, blocking, pursuing, evading and throwing at a mobile target, without the impact and fatigue associated with athlete on athlete training.
(source: mobilevirtualplayer.com)

Image - Jim Cole/AP Images

Image - Jim Cole/AP Images

Image - ohgizmo

Image - ohgizmo

VICIS ZERO1
The VICIS ZERO1 is a highly-engineered football helmet designed to reduce impact forces. It is the culmination of a 3-year, $20M research and development effort shaped by some of the world’s leading athletes, engineers, and neurosurgeons. The ZERO1’s multiple layers work together to slow impact forces. The helmet features a soft outer shell and an underlying layer of columns designed to mitigate collisions from multiple directions.
(source: vicis.co)

EYE-SYNC
A portable virtual reality device that can be used by coaches and sports medicine professionals on the sidelines to detect symptoms of concussion in under 60 seconds. Adapted from Stanford Sports Medicine’s concussion protocol, the EYE-SYNC Screening Algorithm gives clear guidance on the actions to be taken following a suspected head injury. Based on the latest research that ocular-motor and vestibular-balance impairments account for most neurological dysfunction, the protocol first assesses for those impairments. In so doing, the potential risk of further injury is decreased.
(source: syncthink.com)

Image - SyncThink

Image - SyncThink

Lindsay Schultz
Researcher at CHOi Design Inc.
10/30/17