Thursday, February 28, 2013

Why NFL Helmets Will Never Be Concussion Proof

It's all about deceleration. How quick your brain goes from 20 miles per hour, to zero. Or, even negative 5 mph.

Not that we shouldn't try to make better helmets. But this article does a good job explaining the limits of polyurethane.
The problem is ultimately one of physics. All helmets work under the same principle. The force striking one’s head--acceleration mixed with mass--can’t actually be prevented. Physics says that energy has to go somewhere, right? What good helmets do is lengthen the duration of the impact itself (in the hundredths of a second range), reverberating energy through various structures and materials, to smooth a hit from a sharp, high-g strike to a relatively smooth curve of deceleration. Consider landing on a concrete floor or a pile of pillows. Which impact takes longer and which impact hurts more? 
“I think that it’s true that football helmets are 85% as good as they’re ever going to get,” Dr. Timothy Gay, University of Nebraska physics professor, writer, and industry helmet consultant tells me. “The optimal football helmet won’t be much better than the helmet you can buy right now because there are just physics restraints on the kind of padding you can use. We have a pretty good micro, nanotechnological understanding of how materials work. And basically, there are limits on what padding materials can do for a given thickness.”
Then of course, you have the "let's remove the facemasks" crowd. In theory, this would change the way players tackle, because a high percentage of BROKEN FACES would ensue.

Which would be like trying to bring down average speeds on the highway by OUTLAWING SEAT BELTS, so that way most people would drive a LITTLE slower thinking "holy shit, I don't have a seatbelt, maybe I should slow down."

Yeah, it'll kill a lot more people, but eventually it would bring down speeds.

The only real "solution" to helmet-to-helmet hits in the NFL, is to even further legislate against what are "armless tackles."

It won't sit well with the public, but it's the only way to prevent using that polyurethane warhead as a weapon.


  1. A couple weeks ago Autoweek published an article stating that that Bill Simpson is actually working on the problem, no mention of the NFL helping

  2. I read that article also, Bill Simpson is collision expert. I'm involved with racing and know full well how good his stuff is. And he won't ask someone like the NFL or Nascar to help develop something, he'll just do it.

  3. Any slow down of the velocity, even in fractions of a second will help. Yes, it comes down to the physics. What is the base formula of concern? Force or energy of the collision = the mass X the velocity squared. So, any decrease in velocity has exponential benefit. You will never change the mass part of the equation, though that is slowly becoming more of a factor over time....See the 80's Hogs O-Line compared to any average size of NFL O-line now. That said, I expect that this article is pretty well right on. Can only slow down the velocity of the collision so much.

  4. Czabe, re the no face mask crowd comment, the seat belt analagy is a poor'd be left with a lot more bruises and scrapes, broken noses, and broken teeth, but fewer permanent debilitating injuries.

    While it might impact the aesthetics of the game somewhat, we could also reduce player speed by eliminating cleats and field turf and perhaps requiring more pads. (how bout governor plates?).