Cutting-edge football helmets, data-gathering sensors, and a turf testing machine called the BEAST are just a few elements of the behind-the-scenes revolution making the game safer for NFL players. While many different technologies are driving this shift, they all have a common thread: data. Indeed, the NFL and its partners are collecting more data than ever to better understand how injuries occur and ultimately keep players safer while making the game more exciting.
In a new special episode of NFL Explained, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Amazon Web Services (AWS) CEO Adam Selipsky, NFL EVP overseeing player health and safety Jeff Miller, NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills, and several NFL-partnered engineers and innovators take fans behind the scenes into the labs designing the technologies, and into the locker rooms and onto the fields where they are used.
This 30-minute episode offers an inside look at the innovations driving the future of player safety. Watch it in full here:
The initiatives and technologies featured include:
- Helmet Testing: A team of biomechanical engineers at Biocore – an equipment-testing laboratory that also assesses automobile safety designs – has developed a system of testing, scoring, and ranking the effectiveness of helmets. This framework helps facilitate innovation and improvement in the helmet industry, and the results of these NFL-NFLPA laboratory tests are displayed on a poster that's shared with NFL players and displayed in every NFL locker room.
- HeadHealthTECH Challenges & the NFL Helmet Challenge: A program of grants incentivizes entrepreneurs, small businesses, and universities to develop better protective equipment for use on NFL fields. The program has granted over $4.5 million since 2017 to advance 17 new technologies, including through the most recent competition, the NFL Helmet Challenge.
- Rule Changes: Since 2002, the NFL has used data to inform more than 50 rules changes to eliminate potentially dangerous tackles and reduce the risk of injury.
- Data Collection: Through myriad sources, including tags of players' equipment and video analysis, the league collects ample data about every move that each player makes on the field. This provides context for understanding how, where, and when injuries typically occur – invaluable data for helping improve the safety of the game.
- The BEAST: The NFL has developed a biomechanical testing device – dubbed the BEAST – that analyzes the interaction between players' cleats and the surface of football fields. This measurement can then be used to verify whether excessive forces are transmitted to players' bodies.
- The Digital Athlete: A virtual representation of an NFL player is being developed with AWS to leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to better predict and eventually prevent player injury.
These projects have improved player health, as the League has seen a sustained 25% drop in concussions over the past three seasons. With exciting new technologies in development, the bar keeps rising season after season for player health and safety.
"We did believe at the beginning that we could make our game safer and keep the excitement and fun of NFL football while keeping our players safer," Commissioner Roger Goodell said. "And that had to be the number one objective. And we clearly have achieved that."