Jan 29, 2015
Ex-QB Develops New Football Helmet

By R.J. Anderson

Being a good quarterback is as much mental as it is physical. So it makes sense that former Harvard University signal-caller Vin Ferrara, MD, is helping to make sure quarterbacks–and all other players–can keep using their heads after violent collisions by developing a new type of helmet.
In light of endless reports on the dangers of concussion, Ferrara and other researchers have been hard at work developing new ways to decrease the severity and rate of head injuries. Today, coaches and players are seeing the fruits of those labors with the development of more sophisticated helmets and safety equipment.

One such example comes from Xenith LLC, a four-year-old Boston company founded by Ferrara, who says he experienced a handful of concussions as the Crimson’s starting quarterback in the mid-90s. The helmet is called the X1, and instead of using traditional foam or urethane, it incorporates 18 thermoplastic air-filled shock-absorbing disks in the helmet’s padding system. Upon impact, these disks compress and absorb the force by releasing air to stabilize the skull and soften brain-jarring blows.

The helmet, which received certification from the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) in October 2007, has drawn positive reviews from physicians and concussion researchers around the country. Robert Cantu, Chief of Neurosurgery Service and Director of Sports Medicine at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Mass., says the X1 represents a huge leap in helmet safety.

“It’s thrilling to see a whole new technology,” Cantu told the Harvard Crimson. “The helmet tests out far better than existing models.” Cantu, one of the nation’s foremost experts on concussion, is serving as an informal advisor to Ferrara, and has no financial stake in the company.

The X1 has not yet been game-tested, but Ferrara says he expects the helmet to be available for the 2008 season, with colleges having access to it in time for spring workouts. “We have a list of close to 50 schools that have agreed to try the helmet this spring,” says Ferrara, a graduate of Columbia University’s medical and business schools. “Initially, we’re only going to distribute adult-size large helmets, which will fit the majority of high school and college players. We’ll roll out the rest of the sizes in time for the 2009 season.”

The helmets were tested last fall by two high schools–one in New Jersey and one in Michigan–and also by the Harvard team. “We gave each school 15 helmets for about a week to wear during practice, but not games,” Ferrara says. “They used them for three or four practices, then we passed their feedback on to our design and engineering teams. This helped us decide what components we wanted to use in the helmet.”

In addition to the innovative shock absorbers, Ferrara feels the helmet is also breaking new ground with its adaptive fit system. “The shock absorbers are imbedded in a flexible bonnet, and a cable courses from the back of the helmet through the bonnet,” says Ferrara. “It also runs through the chinstrap cup so when a player pulls on his chinstrap, the cable tightens and pulls the cup around his chin, making the flexible bonnet snug around the player’s head. It basically eliminates the need for air pumps.”

Ferrara says $350 is a fair “neighborhood price figure” for the X1. Realizing that some cash-strapped high schools may find the product cost prohibitive, Ferrara says the company will also market it to individual players and parents and distribute the helmet through sporting goods dealers.

“I view the helmet as a medical device rather than just a piece of athletic equipment,” Ferrara says. “Given what we think it offers and compared to what parents and families spend on other healthcare related items, we think it’s a reasonable price.”

R.J. Anderson is an Assistant Editor at
Training & Conditioning.

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