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NFL Releases Finite Element Helmet Models (playsmartplaysafe.com)
75 points by wyldfire 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 146 comments

You really need accurate material models for this to be any use. Without being able to validate the baseline condition using the same non-linear, anisotropic, material behaviour profiles, there's no way to develop new geometry and/or use novel materials, and actually prove it's better than before.

They would ideally release their own, repeatable analysis files of their own benchmark condition.

I suspect the best helmet for blunt impacts is probably a one/few-time use deal with crumple zones to absorb the energy of the impact and increase the time of the impact. After it's crumpled you would have to swap it out for a new helmet.

Curious why they wouldn't just drop their funding on a grant for research in any top10 mechanical engineering department - the knowledge to develop this is readily available and the problem space is a fairly solved one. That being said Tesla has improved crash safety over what decades of safety engineers could do so maybe there is always space for improvement.

The issue with the crash safety comparison is that helmets need to withstand many impacts before being replaced since it would be crazy to replace a helmet every play or two.

One possible answer is that, in order to truly solve this problem, the sport must do away with facemasks or helmets altogether.

Mike Ditka has long proposed removing the facemask, claiming that it has encouraged players to weaponize their heads for hits without fear of injury [0].

Researchers in the medical community have been echoing this as well, arguing that helmets do far more damage than they prevent [1].

More and more, the league, and the sport in general, look to treat the "symptoms" of this issue rather than addressing the root cause.

[0] http://bleacherreport.com/articles/495469-nfl-helmet-to-helm... [1] http://natajournals.org/doi/pdf/10.4085/1062-6050-51.1.06?co...

Rugby does not have a helmet (except for the padded ones) and yet they still have concussion issues. I think there’s no clear answer although I agree about removing face mask.


As I understand it, Rugby has a lower incident rate of concussion, and it's more the outcome of accidents than as a direct aspect of the tackling. That said, it's a very different style of play in Rugby to American Football.

Rugby players just don't deliberately go in with their head for the tackle, which is something you often see with NFL players (some NFL teams have experimented with helmet free tackling practice and seen it improve the game-time tackling effectiveness)

The lack of a stop of play after every tackle in Rugby also tends to ensure players are opting for tackles that they can recover from.

In American Football the expectation is for contact / hit with every play. Contact is just a staple part of every single play for every player. In Rugby, contact is largely down to those with the ball, and those specifically attempting to tackle them. It's a very different contact profile, even before you consider things like helmets and padding and what that does to the mindset of the players.

Downs in American Football make a huge difference too. Teams have 3/4 tries to go a total of 10 yards. A yard on a running play is very important so running full blast into someone to gain/prevent an extra yard is worth it. In Rugby, it doesn't really matter if you go 3 or 4 yards before being tackled.

I see them lowering their heads into rucks or tackles. While there are fewer hits of course (in football, obstruction/blocking is encouraged off the ball) I think, anecdotally based on watching a lot of both, that rugby players and trainers don't account for concussion incidents as well. You see in both NFL and rugby league/union players shrugging off trainers attempting to take them out of a game, but I feel like I see many more rugby players returning to action after obvious grogginess akin to what I saw in the NFL a decade ago. There is under reporting in both sports too of course.

There are concussions in rugby, but they're much rarer. There are many rules protecting players, such as not being allowed to go in with the head or shoulders (you must tackle with your arms). You're not allowed to lift players off the ground, or tackle them around either their necks or heads.

On occasion players will still land badly or be tackled by multiple opponents. Studies are a bit rarer, but older players doesn't seem to nearly have the same level of issues as players from the NFL.

rugby has recently introduced a rule whereby there is a pitch-side doctor who will investigate replays of collisions where a concussion is suspected to have occurred. players are then removed from play for a mandatory 10 minute risk assessment which, if failed, means they cant return to play. quite a sensible move which should definitely be explored further and removes some of the burden of being a tough guy and playing through it

Football has never had them, there is occasional concussion but certainly long term damage from heading the ball.

Increasingly, the take is that pre 12yo kids shouldn't be having any blows to the head. Having a helmet likely doesn't help that much until you get to the point of a major hit.

I played organized American Football from the time I was a kid. Went to at the time the biggest high school in the state. I don't recall ever having any kind of head injuries despite getting hit a lot. Went out in college to try Rugby as a club sport. First practice, horrific concussion. I am a sample size of one, but I'd much rather my son play American Football than Rugby. If he gets to the college or pro level, then we can have a John Urshel type conversation about whether to continue.

I am not sure that you need a frank concussion to rack up long term damage though. Soccer players can acquire CTE from repeated headers of the ball, which rarely cause the kind of concussions you're takling about. I think the take away from all the present research is that it's generally a bad idea to bonk your head into things repeatedly, whatever the sport.

Concussions are accumulative and most of them are not macro evident. Lots of micro concussions could be worse than a single big one.

So I do not think your data means what you believe it means. There is a reason they call NFL "Not For Long".

I would not let my children play either American football or rugby, existing options like basketball or tennis. Luckily most of the world plays soccer.

Why do you believe soccer is actually any safer?

> Ronksley examined the relative concussion risk for some of the most popular youth sports: American football, rugby, hockey, lacrosse, soccer, basketball, baseball, softball, wrestling, field hockey, track, taekwondo, volleyball and cheerleading. Altogether, they reviewed data from 23 previously published studies on concussions in these sports, and then did a pooled analysis of injury rates from 13 of the prior studies.

> For each of the sports, they looked at concussion rates based on minutes of athletic exposure (AE), which includes competitions or practices with the potential for injury. The overall concussion risk across all of the sports included in the analysis was 0.23 injuries per 1,000 AEs. By comparison, the concussion risk per 1,000 AEs for rugby was 4.18, while it was 1.2 for hockey and 0.53 for American football.


So on the one hand: research.

On the other hand: soccer (especially with sense enough not to be hitting headers all the time), has stupendously less physical contact than rugby or "football"... how could it be more damaging/dangerous with less contact?

One thing to consider is the way you learned to tackle. Tackling technique is very different. If you used the same "Hit em hard" tackling that is common in American Football, I'm not surprised you had a concussion your first day of rugby practice. Your tackling technique didn't emphasize head protection.

I disagree that American Football tackling technique doesn't emphasize head protection. That is literally the first thing that every coach, every parent, every referee says to kids from the moment they start playing. It's ritual, IE: "low man wins," "keep your head up". An unsafe tackle is a pretty good way to get benched.

Quite the opposite - I got tackled and hit my head on the ground. An injury that might have been prevented with a helmet.

Have you considered the possibility that the difference is that you played American Football against smaller people?

When I graduated from high school I was 155 pounds - not exactly large. Which is part of my point here. For pro calibre players, significant physical growth often happens in those college and early pro years. If you've never stood next to a professional player - even the smaller ones - they are physical freaks, at least during their playing years. The typical pre-college player in this country is a much more normal-bodied person, thus assuming good technique, etc, they are no more at risk playing American Football than any other sport.

Oh you fine folks of HN crack me up. Speak from personal experience, get downvoted into oblivion.

Why is it crazy to replace the helmets on each major impact? This is a multi billion dollar industry

These players have to start somewhere. A highschool can't eat the cost of multiple helmet replacements.

Agreed, but the hits my nine year old is making playing pee wee league are significantly different than those happening in college, the CFL, and NFL. In the same way that a pro skier in the backcountry uses very different safety equipment than the person on in-bounds groomed snow. This isn't to say that we shouldn't seek to keep kids as safe as possible, just that I don't see an issue in scaling the equipment (and its costs) relative to the risk.

Anecdotal, but from what I've heard it tends to be that at the high school and earlier levels hitting is done in a more chaotic manner. Yes, they're not 300-plus pound athletes hitting people, but seems that even in the earlier stages it is detrimental.

It's also cumulative so someone doing 4 years in HS then stopping is inherently safer than someone that goes to collage and even that's safer than a 5+ year NFL run.

Granted far more people play at lower levels but it's reasonable to consider cost benefits for each group. With the option to increase protection for people expected to continue to the next level.

The average NFL career is 3.3 years, so a HS football stint would actually be longer.

The average is dragged down by people that stop very quickly. People that stay for 5+ years are at much higher risks than someone that stops at 1. And again that's after 3-4 years in collage and 2-4 years in high-school.

So we are talking ~9 years vs up to 26+ when every year is more risky than the last because of cumulative damage.

The problem is that replacing the helmets after each play or major impact would take time, and the clock doesn't always stop after a play during football. If we stopped the clock to replace a helmet, we open up the possibility of a team using this to slow down an advancing offense, or by an offense to gain a short timeout in a sense.

Basically it just doesn't mesh well with the flow of the game.

As someone who doesn't watch much football because the game doesn't seem to have any flow, it's interesting to hear that it is actually a concern.



These studies never take into account that the game is still ongoing while the ball is not in play. A lot of the game takes place before the snap, as does the strategy. The offense after a big play sometimes struggles to get to the line of scrimmage in time to snap the ball again.

There is a flow and rhythm to the game for those of us who enjoy the sport. Though I can understand where you are coming from.

Parent is referring to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurry-up_offense

Another interesting thing: one major advantage of speed is actually slowing the game down.

E.g., if you move quickly between plays, you can catch the other team with too many men on the field during a substitution. in that case, you sometimes get a "free throw" (if the play works out, you decline the "too many players on field" penalty; but if the play doesn't work out or the other team intercepts the ball, you take the penalty and pretend like the failed play didn't even happen.

So you can actually increase the length of the game by moving quickly in-between plays...

Just replace them after every series[1], that way while the offense is coming off the field they are getting their helmets swapped out and the defense is going in with fresh helmets, rinse/repeat.

[1] A series being after the offenses/defenses swap out, this could be as little as one play, but rarely more than 15-18 and I would guess on average about 8 or 9.

Edit: grammar

It adds an incentive for the defense to intentionally crumple an offensive player's helmet with the intention of taking them out for a play or slowing down their rhythm. It would likely have a net-negative impact on safety.

You could argue that boxing gloves make boxing more dangerous. Gloves protect the boxer's hands, not their opponents as is widely believed. As per the Wikipedia article below, punches to the head were less common in the bare-knuckle boxing days for fear of boxers injuring their hands.


It was also a much much bloodier sport, for what its worth.

One knockout punch, or 40 smaller ones?

CTE gets you, either way.

as an increasingly reluctant football fan, this has always been my take on it as well. though the short-term effects of such a change might be kind of wonky, if you remove the super heavy padding the problem of hitting people with impunity because they think they're immune should solve itself in the long run.

You could do layered helmets - an inner helmet similar to what they wear today, and a crumpling cycling-style foam block helmet that slips over it. Have a team of runners hand out fresh foam block helmets every play and collect the chunks from the field.

This is the viewpoint the NFL obviously won't address.

They enjoy the game being turned into a hyper-violent gladiator sport.

> That being said Tesla has improved crash safety over what decades of safety engineers could do so maybe there is always space for improvement.

Was the lack of big-ass engine in the front an advantage for them? Seems like the empty frunk (and low center of mass?) allows for some engineering that can't be done in a conventional ICE car.

I'm curious about this statement as well. Do we have any data that shows a Tesla is any better than a roughly comparable (size, weight, cost) brand new ICE car? Say a Lexus GS or a BMW 7 series?

They do love to point out they are safer than the NTSB average, but it would be kind of apalling if their cars were not safer than a 10 year old Toyota Corolla (approximately the average car).

The Euro NCAP ratings gave the Model-S approximately the same rating as the Maserati Quattroporte which is similar in size and shape.

The average is not of the average car, I'm presuming.

It's the current average score across today's cars.

>I suspect the best helmet for blunt impacts is probably a one/few-time use deal with crumple zones to absorb the energy of the impact and increase the time of the impact. After it's crumpled you would have to swap it out for a new helmet.

Bicycle and motorbike helmets already work like this. The energy-dissipative layer is made from expanded polystyrene foam, which permanently deforms and fractures on impact. The downside is that they're a one-shot item - once a helmet has taken an impact, it loses integrity and should be disposed of.

Helmets for football and hockey use a polypropylene foam, which doesn't absorb as much energy but will withstand multiple impacts. Polystyrene foam would be impractical at best for these helmets. There is often no visible evidence that a polystyrene helmet liner has been structurally compromised, so a player or coach has no way of checking that the helmet is still providing useful protection. If the helmet isn't replaced after every impact, then it might be offering less protection in practice than a polyurethane helmet.

The real villain here isn't the blunt force of a linear impact, but the rotation of the brain within the skull. This causes deep structural damage in the lower parts of the brain. Dealing with these forces is far more challenging, but I suspect that there are significant gains to be made with respect to the shape and structure of the wire face shield. The smooth plastic of the helmet's shell tends to produce glancing impacts with minimal rotation, but the face shield can snag and create horrendous rotational forces.



Bike helments use MIPS to help mitigate rotational forces. (https://www.bicycleroots.com/blog/mips-helmet-technology-wha...) I wonder if something like that would make sense in the NFL to help lower rotational impact.

Alternately (although this would really change the sport) you could look at moving away from mounting the head-protection on the head. Instead you mount a cage on the chest and shoulder pads - like a spinal recovery halo brace without the skull drills. A wearable rollcage.

It would look absurd and reduce their mobility, but it would shift the impacts from the head to the torso.

Like the HANS device in F1?


>Curious why they wouldn't just drop their funding on a grant for research in any top10 mechanical engineering department That's wishful thinking for the most part.

I spent a fair bit of time as a student employee a ME department. Students who have little real world experience, assignments with specific criteria they need to fill and a handful of other classes and activities competing for their time are not the kind of people you want designing things. You can make them design things but you'll probably toss basically all of it out and start from near scratch if you want to make it suitable for production. ME degrees are about teaching students the process of engineering not about teaching students to produce results and predictably students suck at producing results but do fine with the process. Even the students who are good at delivery results make rookie mistakes and go down time consuming dead ends left and right. Sure you can get some real engineers to hold their hands and help produce results but you'd need to have them so involved that you're better off just having an program to help place students in internships.

>Tesla has improved crash safety over what decades of safety engineers could do

How so? By building an incrementally stiffer (with regard to passenger cabin) box on wheels enabled by better packaging requirements of an electric drive-train?

Working research departments != students.

Yes that is definitely better. With better materials engineering one could imagine an "active" material that crumpled and then "uncrumpled" itself. Perhaps the uncrumpling would require electric power?

There's research being done with piezo-electrics to achieve this.

Pretty neat stuff.

Seems like the black rubber “bumpers” are intended to provide the “crumple zone” effect

The helmet compresses into the bumpers?

Only thing safer helmets will do is encourage players to hit harder and harder, until someone really gets killed.

I hope one day I will get to see the end of football. Why would any parent enroll their child in this sport?

There are several sports than can be dangerous and involve risk of death, like basically all forms of racing, climbing, endurance, etc. As long as practitioners are educated and consenting, I don't see a problem.

The problem is if the those responsible for the athletes are not upfront on the risks, or if the athlete is not able to make a proper judgement to consent, like a child.

In all the sports you named - brain injury is not a regular part of the sport - it happens when something goes wrong. In football players suffer mild traumatic brain injury in every game, as a regular part of game play.

While this seems to be the likely scenario, this isn't actually known for sure yet. We know that every concussion causes cumulative damage, but it is unclear what level of sub-concussive hit causes cumulative damage? It's almost certainly not 'none', but we don't know whether it's a light tap, or an almost concussive hit. For example, it could be that concussion is a red herring and certain angles and acceleration profiles are the issue and these don't correlate at all with concussion.

Yes, there are risks in all these activities, the problem with full-contact football, or hockey & lacrosse is that there is no way to be educated and consenting for an aspect that is inherent to the very nature of the activity, especially if you're a kid.

Up in Canada the pro-contact hockey crowd loves to talk about "teaching kids how to hit properly" which I'd suspect is a similar attitude to those coaching 5-yr-olds in full-pads football. But what does this mean? They seem to think that by addressing the technique of what is at it's a core a violent and damaging activity you can somehow mitigate the effects. I'm not buying it. Football is even worse; it's not the highlight reel tackles but the every single play collisions at the line that lead to long term, consistently demonstrated traumatic head injuries.

Frankly I feel that the NFL working to address the root causes of head injuries is like asking Facebook to take care of personal information and privacy protection. They are entirely incompatible.

you don't even start contact in hockey until your teens.

Hitting properly means using your shoulders and hitting the player in the shoulders or chest.

Specifically ice hockey, I assume?

Field hockey ( just called hockey in Europe ) doesn't involve bodily contact.

The problem with sports like football is that they are an accumulative damage sport as opposed to a safe until accident sport.

Racing is the closest, but with climbing and endurance, you're battling the environment and yourself. In football, the person going after you provides a factor you really can't plan for.

The US has a violence fetish, the same way that the UK has a class fetish. The football quarterback is the highest status kid in the school because he is the leader of an organization demonstrated to deliver and endure violence.

Your premise is very weak in relation to US sports being a supporting argument.

It comes across as though you've never actually played football or been on a football team. Players on one team largely go out of their way to avoid injuring players on the other team. The vast majority of the game is free motion, not the application of violence. Another large fraction of the game is what can best be described as aggressive shoving and using your body to push or block, not super violent at all.

The quarterback, further, doesn't lead the defense. The job of the offense, which the QB leads, is to score. Ideally that occurs with the minimum amount of violence necessary, not the maximum amount. Offensive players mostly want to avoid that whenever possible. The quarterback does not inherently lead the team and does not lead the defense at all (ie the primary appliers of violence).

The quarterback is popular because he's the center of the offense, which does the scoring, which is exciting. Not because he leads a violent machine. Basketball players in high school that are talented, are equally popular, because scoring points is exciting in every sport.

Hockey is occasionally a quite violent sport. Gretzky wasn't one of the most popular players in hockey history because he was violent - it was because he scored at a rate nobody else ever has. The same goes for Mario Lemieux and countless other scorers.

Baseball is particularly not violent. You know, America's pastime sport that tens of millions of people go to see every year and is wildly popular.

Basketball is no more violent than soccer.

You sound like maybe you've played football. If so, you must recognize that it's nothing particular about any sort of violent acts that makes it so dangerous, but the technique where action at the line teaches driving up from the shoulders to the head which leads to repetitive contact.

The big open-field head-on-head hits are horrific but not the ones that lead to every single brain that's been analyzed showing evidence of CTE.

The NFL will live with having to handle the freak accidents; they can't exist in a world where playing football => long term traumatic brain injury

Perhaps a military metaphor is best —- the QB role is no more violent than Army general, and the players and soldiers are the ones who are most sickened by the violence and injury. That doesn’t change the fact that both football and war have fans who watch on TV and love to see the biggest hits and biggest bombs.

>Perhaps a military metaphor is best

Perhaps an actual argument that supports your claim would be better. You haven't even established for a fact that the US likes violent entertainment more than other nations. So start there before moving on to 1980's teenage comedy notions of high school popularity to explain it.

Given how strongly you talk about football here you must have a good understanding of the sport. How much experience have you had with football, either playing or watching?

A lot of watching, and my claim is only about the fans, not the players, so I’m not sure how any playing experience would help me here. I know that millions of people have watched Lawrence Taylor’s career ending tackle of Joe Thiesmann while Lawrence Taylor has himself never watched it.

In case anyone hasn't seen it:


Surely this is better explained as just another instance of best-player-of-most-popular-sport-is-popular? The same dynamic happens in countries where the considerably less violent of the two "footballs" is played. And star basketball players also are extraordinarily popular. Maybe the only distinction in American football being that a single individual gets to make nearly all the scoring plays and is designated with a specific role so that everyone knows who they are.

> Why would any parent enroll their child in this sport?

For the poor, it is a way out. Even if you don't hit the pro level, being good at football can get you a full ride scholarship to a great school.

One of my friends at Berkeley was in exactly this situation. He grew up very very poor, played football at the local high school, and managed to get a football scholarship to Berkeley. He wasn't very good at football, and rarely played at all, but he did get a full ride scholarship that covered tuition, housing, food, books, and a small stipend for living expenses. He also got a job working in the residence halls, which also came with free housing and food, so he basically made money in college.

Then he graduated with a PhD in Education. He could have never afforded that without football.

If only we used all of that money spent on football programs to pay for higher education for poor kids. Wishful thinking I know.

There's an argument to be made that football helps a lot more than just the football players. At most big football schools, the money they make from football pays for all of the athletes in all sports, men and women (along with the basketball profits to some extent).

That's a lot of student athletes getting scholarships, and most of them don't continue in their sport after graduation.

The reality is that many football programs are subsidized by their universities. The elite schools may profit, but there are hundreds of schools with football programs.

There are major downsides too: The kids are often used; they work incredibly hard, get paid nothing, and then get tossed in the gutter unless they make the NFL. Literally, I've read many stories where the coach stops talking to the kid (remember, 18, 19 years old often) and then someone gives him a bus ticket home - so much for education. The great majority of those who stay don't make the NFL; they leave with a lifetime of injuries, poor education (because they were discouraged from taking serious classes and often don't graduate), and no skills or prospects. The school, however, made tens or hundreds of millions, the coach made millions, TV networks made millions (billions?) ... a great business having free labor.

Also, the money and the intense loyalty invites incredible corruption; almost every leading program has had major corruption problems, with Penn State being the worst (systematic child rape covered up for years, so that the football program wouldn't be disrupted).

EDIT: Major edits

Football enriches most universities, giving them extra funds to do things like provide scholarships.

This is not true, most universities lose money on their sports programs.

I don’t know whether it is true, but “Football enriches most universities“ is not inconsistent with that. Football may bring in less money than the other sports cost.

> For the poor, it is a way out.

Which, frankly, makes the fact that you cannot enter the NFL at 18 even more egregious. It's a mutually beneficial scenario for the NCAA and the NFL at the expense of (often disadvantaged) people at or near the physical peak of their career.

Simply play two hand touch or flag. Football is a fun game to watch and play without tackling.

I agree with you that this addresses the game of football, but certainly not the business of football.

Which one do you think the NFL cares more about?

In the modern era, people bemoan that officials are extra protective of quarterbacks relative to previous generations due to and specifically for Tom Brady. Common refrain, right?

But the thing is: they still watch. Yeah, there'd be calls of it being "soft" or "these guys couldn't play with the greats from yesteryear" or the like as there are now, but they'd still watch. The second biggest sport in the US that I can think of (could very well be wrong) is the NBA and it isn't really known for violence being beneficial to the players/game (after the 90s, a lot of what would fly before stopped). Yeah, there are flops or drawing flags by intentionally getting into a play, but it seems the preferred method to force fouls at the end of the game isn't to blindside your opponent but to draw the ref's attention and hold/grab the opposing player.

I was a bit bummed with the "boycott" over the knee taking as I had actually stopped watching around the same time due to all of the CTE research that came out around the same time. Hated the feeling that somehow me not watching due to that was going to get tallied in with people who are anti-protest. I do think if they could solve this problem (CTE), I'd be game to watch again, but I honestly think it isn't solvable.

NFL players are like the modern gladiator. They look resplendent in their armor.

It's core to the image of Football.

If the NFL switched to two hand touch 10 years from now, people would still watch. The violence is not essential. The competition, strategy, amazing throws and catches, speed, team aspect, drama, and unpredictability make it fun to watch.

I would be very surprised if football survived at the level of popularity it enjoys now without the violent hits

Risk compensation. For those interested, here is the relevant Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Risk_compensation

Universal Principles Of Design [1] mentions this, as well. Rather counterintuitively, the solution for reducing brain injuries in football may be to remove helmets altogether.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1592535879/amsi-20

There was a time when American football players didn't wear helmets, or wore only soft leather ones. Men DIED on the field from head injuries. In 1905 there were 19 fatalities.

Because it's a blast to play. And treating children like they are made of glass is a terrible way to raise them.

At what point do we stop banning things because someone else doesn't like it?

Who said anything about banning something? It looks entirely plausible to me that football will die out within my lifetime simply because people don't want to play or watch it anymore.

So your advocating for an abstinence only education, when it comes to football?

Or, to not have helmets at all, or much thinner helmets. Much like bare-knuckle or thin-padded gloves contribute to less "hard" hits being thrown in UFC than in boxing, or how Rugby players don't get the kind of brain injuries because they aren't smacking their heads into eachother as hard as football players are.

Helmets were introduced because a dozen plus kids were dying every year playing it due to things like skull fractures. Football is an inherently violent game and it is because of the rules not the helmets.

UFC: study that supports that assetion verses other factors like less money/rewards, shorter careers and full body contact? Different weight classes? Boxing vs Muay Thai? Yes, intuitively smaller gloves should contribute to less slow damage, but should also cause more acute and immediate injuries.

Yes, in the same way I'd argue for an abstinence-only education when it comes to repeatedly bashing your own head against the wall.

Yes, because seat belts and airbags only encourage people to drive faster and more reckless

But there's no legal or financial liability for a football player running faster or hitting harder. He can pretty much do it without recourse and actually have people cheer him for his impressive speed and strength.

Ask a cyclist about that. Risk compensation is real.

Jerry Seinfeld said it best:

"Now why did we invent the helmet? Well, because we were participating in many activities that were cracking our heads. We looked at the situation. We chose not to avoid these activities, but to just make little plastic hats so that we can continue our head-cracking lifestyles."

Not only does the company that developed the models retain all ownership, they attach a kind of viral ownership to anything developed using them:

"if you develop an Improvement based on or utilizing the Content, and you ...agree that you will not assert any claim, including any claim of infringement, against Biocore for our use of any Improvement"

For those wondering what a finite element model is:

> FE models are computational tools developed by breaking an object down into simpler parts (finite elements) and assembling them into a larger system of equations to model an entire structure—this facilitates the efficient analysis of design changes to that structure. FE models have been used to improve designs in many engineered products, including those in the aeronautics and automotive industries.

having a mechanical background: it's a way to define objects so you can throw more hardware at the problem to get better approximations on how they deform and break.

So they used mechanical engineering techniques you would learn junior year or earlier. I'm sure they used FEA on earlier helmets as well. This just sounds fancier. The next version is probably going to be called the DiffEq models.


These FE models are almost certainly much more complicated than those tested in a junior year course. Anyone rig up a simulation and get some sort of result, but to get an accurate simulation result for a complex system like this requires thoughtful constraints, assumptions, and, as others mentioned, accurate material representations, among other things. FEA is a powerful tool, but much more complicated than providing a mesh and hitting go.

This is a very dismissive comment. Many of my peers in grad school were developing finite element techniques - it's a huge area of active ongoing research. Getting realistic results is very tough in an application with non-linear materials (probably looking at anisotropic composites) and possibly fractures like this.

Its great that the NFL is supporting biomechanics research (and will hopefully help the sport as well).

However, while the models are open source they seem to be created for LS-DYNA, which is a fairly expensive program. I'm not aware of any good open source finite element packages, but I bet this will limit uptake of their models.

The $60million dollar in funding shows the NFL is taking the issue more seriously than it ever has. I suspect there are individuals in the NFL organization that care about the health of their players, but most individuals see this as good PR and risk mitigation. If the NFL does nothing to address it's safety profile they are vulnerable to external regulations.

I'm unsure if this sport can be played safely with any equipment, and playsmartplaysafe.com does little to assure me new changes to helmets are coming to sharply reduce concussions. It does show me that the NFL is open to changes in their helmet design. I'd be interesting in listening to people active in the helmet industry, physicists and doctors about this new platform.

Sorry, but I really don't think fancier helmet padding is the answer to the CTE, concussion, head/neck/spine injury problem. You have to change the game to stop the type of head-leading and head-targeting hits that are glorified in the current model of the sport.

And yes, you can still easily tackle without ramming your helmeted skull into someone elses head. Just watch Rugby, or any kids play pick-up football on a field, both are entirely without pads and helmets, and tackling is a major part of the experience.


I feel like removing helmets from the game entirely would actually be safer than improving helmets. The helmet just creates this false sense of safety that encourages using your head as a point of contact.

Lots of people agree with you, including one of the greatest NFL wide receivers: https://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2012/12/04/hines-ward-...

Safer helmets can do only so much as they are mostly a protection from external trauma. Little can be done to address the simple physics of inertia that causes the brain to crash into the skull due to sudden acceleration in any direction. The only thing that can drastically reduce that trauma is to make rule changes to the game to avoid the type of collisions that cause that acceleration.

If helmet size was no obstacle, could you add a thick inner layer of much softer foam to help gradually slow down the skull so the brain would crash into a suddenly stopped skull?

There have been a couple (or more) guys throughout the years that designed and implemented their own extra cushioning on their helmets, like this: http://www.helmethut.com/DrDelrye/Dr102808a.jpg

The extra foam was always on the outside, I believe. Not sure how well it worked.

Anything done to spread the acceleration out over a larger duration will help but once again it can only do so much. There is a point in which any additional padding is useless because the rest of the body has already come to a stop and there is only so much that your neck and spine can stretch before your skull will have to stop as well.

But the helmets themselves are still hard as can be. Honest question: why not replace a traditional style of helmet with a larger, inflated style bubble that in addition to protecting the head, would not itself produce any sort of large impact force?

They tried something like that. The Kazoo Helmet. It had the unfortunate propensity to briefly stick to an opposing helmet during a collision rather than slide off the other helmet's hard surface causing a wrenching of the neck.

I read somewhere a lot of the concussions in football are not due to blunt hits to the head of the kind helmets can stop, but simply from extreme accelerations (such as after a big hit to the upper body) throwing the brain around inside the skull?

If that’s really the case then the troubling conclusion might be that the game is very hard to make safe through technology.

Summarizing: "Because this activity is so dangerous, and results in many head injuries, we've spent $60 million developing a framework for manufacturers to make helmets that will mitigate the injuries from the this entirely voluntary activity."

Umm, has anyone considered just not doing this activity? I don't mean to be trite, but that's what it looks like from the perspective of one who has little interest in football. If so much protection is required to not turn participants into literal mental cases, the logical next step would be...

Sure, the same could be said about, say, motorcycling. But at least my motorcycle takes me places. OTOH, no one is paying millions in broadcast rights so that people can watch me ride a motorcycle on TV.

Many people know the risk and still choose to play because they love the game. It's a weird function of the human psyche, where a person knows the potential consequences but can't help themselves, like smoking or base-jumping or being trite.

One of the ironies being that footballers can hit each other so hard _because_ of the padding and helmets. The better they make 'em the harder they'll hit and I suspect this is an arms race that will continue.

Nothing's gonna stop that snap-back that causes the brain to slosh around like jelly.

I've yet to be shown evidence that rugby players are suffering the same kinds of injuries NFL players are. Seems to be the same case with bare-knuckle or UFC fighting vs boxing.

A sufficiently large and soft helmet would mitigate the impact to the brain.

The trouble is size. In order to spread out the impulse in time, the helmet must spread out the impact in space. There's really no way to do that by an order of magnitude without making the helmet much larger.

The point that the comment above you is trying to make is that a lot of head injuries aren't just impact related but can in fact come from adverse directional acceleration. Anecdotally, I've talked to people who have gotten brain injuries in car accidents without hitting their heads whatsoever.

>no one is paying millions in broadcasting rights to that people can watch me ride a motorcycle

I feel like you must be aware of the professional racing scene and have just momentarily forgotten? It's a massive industry and it's driven the majority of advancements in street-bike technology.

As a MotoGP fan, I am quite aware that folks will pay tons of dosh to watch, say, Marquez. But not to watch me. That's okay, all that MotoGP tech can get me to work a few seconds faster, and a MotoGP-inspired back protector can assist in keeping me walking should it all go sideways.

But it was more about the utility. Dangerous as it might be, I can at least get to work on a motorcycle. No one is dashing to work 10 yards at a time in pads.

Wait lol then I don't get it, the original comment is why does anybody play football professionally, doesn't the same argument apply to why does anybody ride motorcycles professionally?

It seems you've answered your own question?

It was a bit of a rhetorical exercise, yes.

You aren't going to get the activity of football to go away even if it is risky and bad idea for ones health. Just look at all the dumb stuff our country does already.

To pose a different question, I always wonder if this is the wrong direction. Why not remove the helmets altogether? Or go back to the leather ones? Has their been any comparative studies from head injuries back before the plastic shell was introduced? Or perhaps relativeness to Rugby head injuries?

I have paid for season tickets to college football for the past 18 years. Recently I've been reading more and more about this problem and I feel guilty for contributing to injury of players, willful participants or not. I'm considering not renewing and not watching, and I think we'll see the end of football (as we know it anyway) in our time.

However I do find the strategy and team aspect of the game compelling. I wonder if it's possible to take the violence out and retain the tactical/athletic aspects that make it interesting to watch.

As someone who has no knowledge of the American version, I wonder if the actual play could just be simulated? For a noob, how much is skill on the players part Vs strategy?

That's one thing that makes me wonder about viability w/o violence. The athletic ability of the player to take a hit and keep going, or break/slip out of a tackle, or make a perfect throw/catch etc is quite astounding.

More interesting is the subtle strategic parts that are easy to overlook: how you line up a offence/defense (coach), play calling (coach), decision making (players/coach), reading offensive/defensive schemes and adjusting (players), etc. etc.

One thing I think is really unique (maybe I'm wrong about this) is that it's a team sport, half of the game is played by the other half of the team, each depending on the other to put them in a good position.

> You aren't going to get the activity of football to go away even if it is risky and bad idea for ones health.

It will never go away completely but it is already shrinking:




The younger you get the larger the loss in popularity. Contrast that against "soccer" (football) which has gained in popularity over the same period:


And basketball has also been surging in popularity:


I live in a town that lives and breaths college football and this trend is very visible in the youth and HS level sports. Soccer is extremely popular.

I don't know about studies, but players died from head injuries before modern helmets were introduced.

> Umm, has anyone considered just not doing this activity?

Since I've become aware of the long term repercussions of repeated head strikes, I've pretty much stopped watching football. I used to watch every game (NFL and college) I could and now I'm down to basically tuning in for the Super Bowl and that's it.

On the plus side, I've started watching baseball more and I think I enjoy watching that game more than I ever did football.

But you actually can't even say the same about motorcycling. Football players get minor brain damage in practically every game they play, which accumulates over time. On a moto you only suffer injury when something goes wrong.

The model of the helmet for use in concussion studies is only as good as your model for the (more complex) system of human skin, skull, and brain suspended in cerebrospinal fluid.

It doesn't take much to cause mild traumatic brain injury, and no amount of helmet research will change that. This is safety theater.

Won't better helmets just lead to harder hits? Go back to soft helmets and behavior will change...

Can the NFL defy the laws of physics?

I thought they ripped off Xenith for a second before realizing this is a Xenith product.

The NFL would rather do anything than actually enforce the steroid policy

If they crack down, players will just find new ways to cheat. It's whack-a-mole, and none of the fans actually care, so why bother?

Here I was getting excited for something related to react-helmet.

All the high impact sports (ie football, rugby, boxing, wrestling) feel like a relic of times past. I hope eventually VR reaches a point where the players get to perform on a virtual arena while their physical bodies are inside a simulation room.

Sensor suits like those used to enable motion capture [0] and some multidirectional treadmill [1] would enable the same activities in a much safer environment.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOWS8K-jMGg [1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEhwLRX4m2s

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