This continuing “Guest Series” is being authored by Terry Ott and will delve into the Canadian Football League and the issues revolving around it and brain injury. His process began nearly a year ago, but Mr. Ott picked up some steam with the release of“League of Denial”. He has since found himself running into dead-ends and basically being ostracized for taking a journalistic angle on this as it pertains to the CFL. We are thankful that we can provide a space for his writings and only hope that someone who is reading this can further his cause. You can read PART 1 HERE and PART 2 HERE and PART 3 HERE and PART 4 HERE.
IS “MIPS” A FOUR LETTER WORD AND (Every)THING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SNAKE-OIL*
*But were unaware to ask
“The cold truth is that football players are in jeopardy.” — Bill O’Reilly, he of the No Spin (End) Zone, Jan. 8. 2014
The Concussion Blog supremo Dustin Fink once mused to me that football, in its infancy a hundred years ago or there about, was meant to be played by (slower) men about five foot nine and weighing an average 150 pounds or so and at a time when a 200LB plus player was basically a monster, a freak.
You can appreciate the Dustin statement inference by referencing high school physics in that net (G) force equals mass times acceleration and also appreciate that now, with players routinely 50-150 pounds heavier then when the first Roosevelt was in the White House, and many now with world-class speed, the G forces generated on impact by today’s pro and college football players are exponentially greater than in Knute Rockne’s days and the resulting collisions on the field can be life threatening in the short, and long-term.
Life in big-time football today is both Darwinian-only the strong survive, and if lucky thrive, and inherently Hobbesian-nasty, brutish and short.
But since literally millions of boys and young men seek football playing dreams, what to do?
Well, since just about all aspects of football equipment has undergone a radical revolution-footwear, pads, uniforms, gloves and eye protection-how about an update on the most important piece of football gear-the helmet.
A little history lesson: President and Rough Rider Teddy R was a big football fan, and when 9 players died in 1913 as a result mostly of skull fracture injuries, he, along with Knute Rockne advocated for a shift from three yards and a cloud of dust to a passing game, as well as for the evolution of protective head-wear that eventually went from leather to the still in use hard plastic shell helmet.
The modern-day helmet is excellent at preventing skull injuries, and has evolved through the years to the point that a fracture is basically unheard of.
However, what it is almost totally bereft of, is in preventing concussions. In fact, the better the helmet got in protecting the skull, the more likely player may have used it as a battering ram, with sadly predictable outcomes.
Now, in the past 10 years, there have been claims by some helmet manufacturers that a concussion reducing design had been discovered and in fact was marketed by Riddell to youth football in 2003,and in the NFL for a short period of time the use of outer shells worn on standard helmets was witnessed, but both the claimed concussion reducing helmet and add-on outer shell were eventually shown to be basically ineffective at preventing concussion.
But, is Swedish manufacturer MIPS,(Multi-Directional-Impact-Protection) as was asked in a cover story of Popular Science mag last year, the helmet technology that could “save football?”
Some in the concussion science community believe there is no such thing as a “safe,” or even safer helmet design. One of the only reporters in Canada bothering to address football concussions at this time, a National Post sports scribe, told me he had not really looked into the MIPS design, but that there was a lot of “snake oil out there.”
Perhaps the reporter was referring to Mitch Ross down in Alabama, whose SWATS supplement firm is currently being sued by the Attorney General for alleged false claims regarding, among other things, the “Concussion Cap”-appearing to be nothing more that a skull-cap with some substance impregnated, purported by Ross as preventative and post injury treatment for concussions.
60 Minutes Sports recently cast a dubious network eye toward Ross and his seemingly outlandish claims. A sort of beware the prophets seeking profits expose.
And when late last year I asked Chris Nowinski of the Sports Legacy Institute through his spokeswoman about MIPS, I was told that “Chris is not an expert on helmets,” and that, evidently, was that.
But let’s take a look at the seemingly real, possible, concussion prevention “savior” in MIPS as described by Popular Science. (Here is the MIPS website, with a link to the PS story: http://mipshelmet.com/home )
In a conference call last year with the MIPS CEO Johan Thiel and R&D Manager Peter Halldin, I got a primer on what their helmet liner/suspension system may-that’s may-be able to do.
Originally developed for winter sports and motorcycling, the MIPS boys claim up to a 50% reduction in rotational forces when used in a standard football helmet shell, essentially dissipating the energy and reducing the G forces of a collision.
It is the rotational strike, similar to a boxer suffering the classic knock-out punch on the chin, that can have the most devastating immediate impact on the football player who is struck a blow that drives his head to the side and then snaps back.
The infamous hit on New England Patriots receiver Darryl Stingley is an example of a severe rotational force injury:
However, when it comes to the linear force head hits-the majority of such blows in football are linear-the MIPS claims are not quite so impressive with a reported 20% reduction.
“We are in the business to save lives,” said CEO Thiel and added that the MIPS football helmet application “looks good” at the present time.
Last year, according to R&D man Halldin, MIPS conducted “thousands of tests in Stockholm,” including simulating a fall to the ground on an angle utilizing a moving steel plate and found the helmet liner absorbing 20% to 50% of rotational energy.
Halldin believes so strongly in the perspective safety and injury prevention value of MIPS for football that he told Popular Science that his product was “pretty f**king amazing” and that basically, football leagues were inviting litigation by not seriously considering the MIPS system.
But CEO Thiel admitted in a recent e-mail that there have so far been no adaptation of the MIPS system by any helmet manufacturer, but that “we do continue our own development and we can see that a MIPS concept could work in a football helmet and reduce rotational violence.”
Thiel added: “Meanwhile we are tuning our technology and doing more test and prototypes to be able to excel in this area of adding safety to the helmet industry.”
And perhaps now that the NFL has dropped Riddell as its “official” helmet and it is expected that many helmet makers will be approaching the league there could be major developments in helmet technology and Thiel said that MIPS is just “waiting for the first brand to make an application” for their product.
(Riddell’s current “360” model helmet claims to be “the first helmet design using energy managing materials”-whatever that exactly means- but adds enough caveats on its website to tickle a lawyer.)
Although the CFL would not even address the issue, some of the former players I discussed MIPS with scoffed, either at the claimed efficiency in reducing rotational force and adding that even if the MIPS system was effective, it would only encourage players to deliver more devastating blows, believing they would be protected from injury.
However, bio-kinetic professor and researcher Blaine Hoshizaki of the University of Ottawa who has conducted research similar to that of MIPS said via e-mail that the Swedish outfit employed “good scientists” but added that “MIPS may work…(but) it has to be applied properly” and that “adjustments had to be made” for it to be effective for football.
Certainly, it would be a heavy burden for any helmet technology to “save football,” as any benefit from new technology would obviously have no bearing on what has already been sustained by countless players still using the “old” technology and many a season would have to be played before any of the slimmest long-term conclusions could be made. Especially so, for the common, almost every play, linear hit.
Plus some in the concussion research and sports science community believed that the Popular Science article may have “oversold” the potential of MIPS.
So even though according to some the experts, MIPS ain’t snake-oil, it could still prove slippery in coming to football fruition.
Yet if the MIPS technology was able to seriously mitigate the catastrophic rotational force blow that many receivers venturing over the middle could possibly sustain almost every game, then the benefit would be sensationally immediate and obvious to all.
And yes, the potential legal ramifications of a new unproven in the real world technology pushed on to the field possibly too soon could also be very problematic.
But, so is doing nothing.