It took racing world to innovate a new, safer football helmet
Kudos to Chip Ganassi
(SI.com) Here's a question for you: What was the last innovation in football helmets? If you can't come up with an answer, you realize part of the problem. Yes, there have been improvements -- better padding, weight reduction, and such -- but little in the way of true innovation.
It took an outsider to even try. Simpson-Ganassi Helmets is located a few miles from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in a non-descript warehouse along with a number of other racing outfits. If you're a racing fan, especially IndyCar, those names will be instantly familiar to you. Bill Simpson is a long-time innovator in racing equipment, known as the "Godfather of Safety," while Chip Ganassi owns racing teams that have won at Indy and Daytona. Together, they've set up a company to apply Simpson's years of experience in racing equipment to the modern football helmet.
The inspiration for the product came in 2010. Simpson watched as Austin Collie was laying on the field unconscious after a second concussion. Simpson's friend, Tom Moore, had been the offensive coordinator for the Colts from 1998-2009 and Simpson asked him why so many players were being carted off. Moore's answer didn't satisfy Simpson, sending him back to his factory.
Simpson worked with Collie and others, including All-Pro Jeff Saturday, during the offseason and by 2011 had a working design. Getting hard figures and names is difficult -- "I don't want to get into the politics," Simpson says -- but estimating that around 20 players wore the helmet for the bulk of last year is "fair." Some wore it all season, while others like Troy Polamalu did not wear it in games. One fact is clear -- not one of the players that wore Simpson's helmets suffered a concussion.
It wasn't entirely successful. Simpson helmets were off many of those players by the end of the season, with complaints about the padding getting "soggy and smelly" being heard. Even Collie switched back to his previous helmet. When he suffered another concussion this preseason, he wasn't wearing a Simpson.
But the problem with those complaints is that there's actually no padding, as most think of it. Heavy? No, the new helmet is lighter. I brought a top-of-the-line helmet to the warehouse for comparison, and the Simpson helmet feels about half as heavy. More at SI.com
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