ATLANTA -- The NFL's path to improve player safety continued Saturday morning at the fourth annual "1st and Future" experience at the Ferst Center for the Arts at the Georgia Tech campus.
In this year's event, the NFL teamed with Arrow Electronics to host a live competition between five companies pitching innovative products and concepts aimed to enhance player health and safety. Additionally, four individuals were provided an opportunity to propose rule changes geared to reduce injuries on punt plays based on data.
Player safety awareness, especially concussions, has been a driving theme for the NFL in recent years, and points of emphasis on rules or modifications take place virtually every season. The culture change has resulted in a decrease in concussions, and Commissioner Roger Goodell lauded the progress of players safety initiatives during a panel discussion following the presentations.
"Everybody is more aware of it: players, officials, coaches," Goodell said during a panel discussion following the presentations. "We have people -- the eye in the sky -- watching upstairs. What's really remarkable was a close to 30 percent reductions in concussions in this league and actually had more screenings."
Goodell was joined on stage by Atlanta Falcons president and CEO Rich McKay, who also serves on the league's competition committee, and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. NFL Network's Scott Hanson serving as host.
Fitzgerald was pleased on the progress around the league on safety, pointing out NFL players are often looked up to as the standard bearers for college, high school and beginner levels of football.
"We have a responsibility not only to ourselves, but to everyone that is watching us, following our league," Fitzgerald said. "The game has changed a great deal and I really, really appreciate the players taking an onus for making the game safer."
The five finalists in the Innovations to Advance Athlete Health and Safety Competition presented their ideas to a five judges, which included Georgia Tech head football coach Geoff Collins; Dr. Leigh Ann Curl, who serves as the head orthopedic surgeon for the Baltimore Ravens and as president of the NFL Physicians Society; BIP vice president Sarath Degala; Arrow Electronics chief marketing officer Victor Gao; Arrow Electronics vice president and general manager Allison Sabia; and former NFL player Shawn Springs, who is now the CEO of Windpact. The top winner received $50,000 and tickets to Super Bowl LIII, while the runner up received $20,000 and tickets to Super Bowl LIII.
The judges for the NFL Punt Analytics Competition were Dr. Curl, Springs, Falcons head coach Dan Quinn and Keith Werle, who serves as the managing director for the Business Analytics Center at Georgia Tech. The co-winners in this category received tickets to Super Bowl LIII.
This year's winners:
Innovations to Advance Athlete Health and Safety Competition, first place: TopSpin Technologies LTD, inventors of TopSpin360, a helmet and the first patented training device proven to strengthen neck muscles with a view to help reduce concussions.
Innovations to Advance Athlete Health and Safety Competition, second place: SOLIUS, which developed advanced science using nano-spectrums of light to stimulate essential hormones and peptides to assist in the reduction of injuries, enhance recovery and improve athletic performance.
NFL Punt Analytics Competition: Halla Yang and Alex Wainger. Yang proposed awarding a 5-yard bonus on fair catches, changing the allowed coverage on punt returners and requiring helmet sensor to monitor physical deceleration. Wainger proposed removing the rule that holds the kicking team at the line of scrimmage until the punt.