When the football season starts, a new helmet will be evident among at least 20 collegiate and 25 NFL teams.
The VICIS Zero1 was the highest rated of 33 helmets laboratory tested by the NFL and NFLPA earlier this year.
What’s different about the VICIS Zero1? It is two helmets in one, with a relatively soft outer shell separated from an inner shell by a system of shock absorbers. Not only will the outer shell deform when struck, it will also rotate to a degree on the inner shell. In so doing, the thought is that this helmet will dissipate not only linear forces but rotational forces, as well.
Rotational forces, those that cause the head to spin and/or suddenly tilt to one side or the other, are primarily responsible for concussion.
Developed over the last four years by the University of Washington and a Seattle-based group of neurosurgeons, bioengineers, and athletes, VICIS has won multiple awards. One group that has repeatedly rewarded VICIS financially is the Head Health Challenge, sponsored by the NFL, Under Armour and General Electric.
All has not been smooth sailing, though. Last August, the helmets were issued to the Washington and Oregon football teams. They were pulled by the company before the end of preseason training camp because of multiple complaints by players regarding fit and comfort.
VICIS claims those issues have been solved and multiple NFL players on multiple teams wore the helmets during spring OTAs.
However, those sessions were non-contact. The proof will come once training camps start as this month comes to an end.
Unfortunately, no such proof will be available at the high school level. At a cost of $1,500 per helmet, the price is prohibitive for all but professional and major college teams.
When I examined the helmet at the National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s annual meeting in Houston last month, the sales representative told me the company’s hope is that, if the helmet proves a success, the NFL and major colleges will underwrite the cost at the high school level.
In my conversation with the sales rep, I told him I was sold on the theoretical benefit of the design — to dissipate rotational forces. However, I expressed a fear that its relatively larger circumference gives it a larger “sweet spot,” thus making a direct — rather than glancing — blow more likely.
Then, I asked the question that elicited blank stares from two Riddell salesmen when I looked at that company’s Speedflex model — which has a slightly collapsible flap on its front — a year ago at the NATA meeting in Baltimore.
“What about the neck?”
One of the ideas behind the traditional hard shell was to encourage glancing blows, where each helmet would slide off the other during a collision, rather than catching. One particular danger of helmets catching on one another during a high-speed collision is injury to the neck.
To his credit, the VICIS representative may not have had an answer but he did not walk away as the Riddell salesmen did. I gave him my business card and asked him to have one of his scientists contact me.
I am still waiting.