It is no surprise that anyone playing football risks physical injury. More and more data is pointing to brain injuries caused by high speed collisions to the player’s helmet. I once had the pleasure of dining with Michael Strahan who played for the New York Giants for fourteen seasons. Our conversation was engaging and covered a range of topics, but we didn’t talk much about football. Interestingly, he spoke about how proud he was of his sister, who has an interest in science – particularly biochemistry. He is fortunate to have sustained minimal injuries while playing on the national level, but I wonder whether he might be an exception.
A recent National Geographic report presents some recent data in a dramatic, interactive display. Below is a snapshot of data collected from a single player sustaining more than 500 helmet hits. As you see, many of them represent hits greater than 80 times the force of gravity (a severe car crash is estimated at 120 g’s) and two of the hits resulted in a concussion.
One 21-year-old defensive end took 537 hits to the head during a season of football games and practices at the University of North Carolina. Of those, 417 had magnitudes of 10 g or more (shown). Two resulted in concussion. Click and drag on the graphic below to rotate it and get a clearer sense of the location and magnitude of all the recorded impacts.
These data indicate that the currently used helmets may not offer sufficient protection, particularly in cases in which players experience hundreds of hits. Do we need more data to revise the safety requirements for helmets in professional and amateur football?