By: Jesse Borek and Brittany Garguilo
Not even three full weeks into the National Football League (NFL) 2015 season, 25 players have had or are still suffering from a concussion. Before the start of the season, on February 19, 2015, the NFL voted down the league-wide use of impact sensors in helmets, a technology that can collect individual data of big impacts an athlete experiences during practices and games.
“The NFL makes lots of money,” Dr. Peter McAllister, Medical Director of the New England Institute for Neurology and Headache said in regards to the NFL’s hesitation to this new technology. “Anything that interferes with making money, like finding out about how frequently their players are concussed, would affect their decision.”
By tracking the force and frequency of impacts, accelerometer sensors collect information that can be used to indicate what players need to be assessed for concussions and head injuries by sending the data of impacts to coaches and trainers in real-time. Although the professionals are stalling the implementation of this technology, at least 20 NCAA Division-I programs are currently using them, including Atlantic Coast Conference members Virginia Tech and the University of North Carolina–both of whom have sent dozens of players to the NFL.
“League of Denial,” published in October 2013 by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, peeled back the curtain on the NFL, revealing the demons players with a history of concussion have to endure. The duo brought to the forefront, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which has been found in 96 percent of NFL players that Boston University’s Medical Center analyzed, according to a recent report from Newsweek.
Now known as the “Brain Bank,” Boston University has opened a CTE Center designed specifically for the analysis of former athletes (and military personnel) who suffered head trauma.
Michael Lisi, a former offensive lineman at Stony Brook University who suffered from two confirmed concussions, never had the opportunity to use the sensor technology. He said he thinks they would be a great idea to help show athletes and coaches the severity of hits to the head.
However, he knows that technology like this can potentially change game of football.
“These sensors could ruin the game and make players afraid of contact,” Lisi said. “The game shouldn’t change, but the truth should be out there and it should be the players’ choice to play or not.”
The CDC released a report earlier this month that said 70 percent of student-athletes failed to report concussion symptoms. This is something that Lisi can relate with. He said he hid at least one, if not multiple, throughout his seasons at Stony Brook.
“I definitely did my freshman year when I knew the playoffs were on the line and I didn’t feel too right, but I wanted to play,” Lisi said. “I don’t regret that decision but with the knowledge I have now, I probably wouldn’t do that [again].”
McAllister says that throughout his work, he sees all different kinds of athletes neglecting their symptoms.
“All ages at all levels of play, hide or fail to report concussions for various reasons, most often having to do with fear of losing playing time.”
Triax, a start up company based in Connecticut, has made and continues to create sensor technologies aimed to provide athletes with the objective data and information they need in order to make better decisions in the present to decide whether they want to continue playing or not.
“This system is implemented as part of a larger concussion awareness and education effort at a school usually, so in our experience, it’s important that players see that the culture of playing through pain isn’t going to be tolerated anymore,” Annie Christian, head of social media and communications at Triax, said. “Hesitation usually has to do with accountability. Oftentimes organizations fear that the objective data will make them more liable.”
“We certainly don’t feel the cost is prohibitive,” said Christian, who noted that individual sensors from Triax cost $189, “For us, the safety of these student-athletes is of the utmost importance.”
More than a century ago, the mortality rate (19 players dead in 1905 alone) for those playing the original game of American pigskin was becoming so alarming that President Teddy Roosevelt stepped in to create widespread changes. Although the rules have been adjusted, the game still has a trademark of inherent violence.
“Everyone knows the true danger, players feel it first hand,” Lisi said. “At the end of the day, football was meant to be played violent and that’s the beauty of the game.”