By providing technology within football helmets, the NFL can reduce the amount of head injuries, while also bettering communication between coaches and players. Throughout history, a couple main concerns have been the risk of head injuries and communication between players and coaches. As time went on, athletes became stronger, causing harder impacts to other players, which often resulted in head injuries. Also, as the number of fans grew within the sport it made it harder for coaches to communicate with their players due to the noisey environment. The NFL and other professional football leagues have made numerous strides in order to correct these issues. Some of these corrections include providing speakers within helmets and impact measuring equipment. Technology within football helmets is helping players stay safe while also providing them with good communication to their coaches.
There are multiple head injuries that come along with play a physical sport like football, especially professional. The main head injury in football today is concussions. Concussions can be caused by things from hard impacts to other players or even just hitting the ground. The severity of concussion can range from mild to extreme, but all can cause damage the brain. Pew and Shapiro say, “Concussions occur when a collision causes the brain to hit the inside of the skull. The greater the force of the impact, the more severe the concussion. Symptoms can include disorientation, memory problems, headaches, fogginess, and loss of consciousness. After suffering from one concussion, a person (especially an athlete) is much more likely to suffer from a second one after another injury”. Rules have been set for the number of concussions a player can have in their career before they must sit out. Multiple concussions can cause brain injury that may become serious and lead to problems later in life. For instance, “The CDC reports that having more than one concussion can cause depression, anxiety, aggression, personality changes, and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, CTE, and other brain disorders” (Pew and Shapiro). Concussions have been a very serious issue in the sport of football.
Another head injury often associated with the game of football is CTE or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. CTE is a type of brain trauma that can come from multiple concussions. It is very traumatic to those who are affected by this trauma. “CTE is a brain disorder that is caused by repeated head injuries. These brain changes progress and worsen over time, and may not be noticed for months, years, or decades after the last brain injury. Common symptoms include memory loss, impaired judgment, aggression, and depression. Some of former athletes with CTE have committed suicide or murder” (Pew and Shapiro). A couple famous athletes have been affected by this disorder which have caused them to do horrific things. When CTE symptoms can cause the affected person to do unordinary things. For example, “One famous example of CTE is former NFL star Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez committed suicide in prison where he was serving time for murder. The autopsy results revealed that he had a severe case of CTE – the worst case ever reported on such a young man (Hernandez was only 27 years old). Doctors categorize CTE in four stages, with Stage 4 CTE as the worst. Hernandez was diagnosed with Stage 3 CTE, which causes memory loss, damaged thinking, as well as changes in behavior and impaired judgment” (Pew and Shapiro). Even a famous athlete can partake in a bad activity due to the damage done. CTE is a very serious brain trauma that can affect athlete at any point in there just like Hernandez at age 27.
As I stated above, the NFL and other professional organizations have taken strides in reducing the risk of head injuries like Concussions and CTE. One stride that has been taken is equipping helmets with RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags. “The NFL uses Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, including those developed by Zebra Technologies, embedded within equipment to collect information on which piece of equipment – including the component parts of each, from a helmet’s chin strap to its facemask – players are wearing” (Ramsey). These tags are very beneficial in not only protecting players, but also helping professional leagues gather more information on impacts. RFID tags are hidden in different spots of equipment so that they are protected and can absorb the best information as possible. The sensors transmit information from speed to impact right to trainers or the person monitoring on the sideline. Ramsey says, “Zebra’s RFID tags are attached to players’ shoulder pads and in footballs to transmit real-time location data to gather metrics such as player speed, distance traveled, orientation and acceleration,” said John Pollard, vice president of business development, Zebra Technologies”. RFID tags are very beneficial to professional organizations in gathering data which protects the athletes.
Organizations like the NFL and more also use mouthguard sensors in order to track impacts delt to athletes. There are multiple different fields of information that can be collected through just a mouthpiece. For instance, “They help the league to collect more information than ever before about the duration and direction of head impacts players experience based on their positions, both during practices and games” (Ramsey). These mouth pieces transmit data to people like trainers in professional leagues who keep track of it. Ramsey also says, “Mouthguard sensors are also collecting head kinematic data—like how fast and in what direction a player’s head moves within a helmet”. The only known flaw with mouth pieces right now is that they are not required in the NFL therefor some players do not use them. When used these mouth pieces are key in helping protect and monitor athletes at the professional level.
Another subject that the NFL has come to improve was the communication between players and coaches. In the recent decades, more and more fans have been admitted to watching professional games. This has made it hard for coaches to give plays to their team during the game because of the excessive noise. The NFL came up with the idea to insert speakers in players helmets. “It wasn’t until 1994 that the league allowed radio communication between the sidelines and the quarterback. It was 14 more years before communication was allowed with a designated defensive player” (Blair). There were many issues that developed with the lack of communication available, but speakers eventually were provided. For instance, “When the play clock was reduced from 45 to 40 seconds in 1993, coaches and general managers complained they were burning timeouts getting plays sent in. In 1994, according to the NFL, between eight and 15 seconds were saved on play calls with the new system in place” (Blair). Coaches and organizations were pleased with this new addition that provided the game with a better flow. Little speakers changed the game of football for years come by providing teams with a great way of communicating.
Although speakers are permitted in professional football, they do come with some rules and regulations. For example, communication is cut short, only leaving a small window for the coach to mention the play to the player. Blair says, “Communication between coach and player is cut off automatically with 15 seconds left on the play clock by the game-day coordinator, and if one team’s system fails, the other team does not have to shut its system down. There is an easy toggle switch that allows the coach communicating with the player to switch over to communication with the head coach or coordinator”. This limit on time, makes calling the play equal between both sides of the ball and adds a sense of difficulty to use of speakers in helmets. If the speakers provided in the helmets were available for the entire play clock, the coach could basically do the job for the quarterback by telling him things like coverages or where to throw. Also, there has been a theory that the radio connection between players and coach have been intercepted from other sources. Plus, some people claim that other teams have hack into the communication before. But these supposed intercepting have been proven to be a myth thus far. For example, “Communication is encrypted, and those stories about police signals or air-traffic signals being heard by QBs are urban myth, though a stadium located next to an airport or television station does present different issues” (Blair). There is a possibility of issues in the future for stadium next to buildings or airports using radio communication, but overall, the use of speakers is safe and reliable. Speakers in helmets come with a couple rules and regulations as well possible issues in the future but are overall successful.
With providing technology in professional football players helmets, organizations can limit the amount of head injuries while improving communication. There are multiple different head injuries that come along with playing football. By being able to monitor impacts on the field, using sensors in helmets and mouth pieces, professional team can know when to check on a player and gather information to keep their players safe. Improved communication between players and coaches was also a necessity at the professional levels. Adding speakers to a player’s helmet on each side of the ball has allowed teams to communicate more freely and get the play in. These speakers do have limits and regulations to keep the game of football fair. Technology in helmets is every benedictional for the game and will be for years to come.
Jeff Blair | @SNJeffBlair January 22, et al. “Insider Knowledge: NFL Coach-to-Player Communication.” Sportsnet.ca, 22 Jan. 2016, https://www.sportsnet.ca/football/nfl/insider-knowledge-nfl-coach-to-player-communication/.
Ramsey, Martha L. “What Are 4 Common Head Injuries in NFL Football Players?” Ramsay Law Firm, P.A., 30 Nov. 2021, https://www.ramsaylawfirm.com/blog/what-are-4-common-head-injuries-in-nfl-football-players/.
Shapiro, Alex Pew and Danielle. “Football and Brain Injuries: What You Need to Know.” National Center for Health Research, 23 Jan. 2018, https://www.center4research.org/football-brain-injuries-need-know/.