NFL Helmet Challenge Judging Panel Set & Ready for Action

On July 14, 2021, all helmet prototypes will be officially submitted in the NFL Helmet Challenge, the multi-year innovation challenge aimed at stimulating the development of a new helmet that outperforms any model currently available to NFL players. An expert panel of judges has been assembled and is ready to award the $1 million prize that is up for grabs.

The judging panel brings together expertise in engineering, biomechanics, neurology, sports business, and notably, includes two NFL Legends and an NFL Equipment Manager. Judges will be tasked with reviewing each helmet prototype to ensure it meets all design and fit criteria and is a helmet that NFL players can realistically wear and be comfortable playing in.

Meet the NFL Helmet Challenge Judges:

  • Cynthia Bir, PhD, Chair and Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering at Wayne State University
  • Geoffrey T. Manley, MD, PhD, Chief of Neurosurgery at San Francisco General Hospital and Professor of Neurosurgery at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF)
  • Steve Moore, Vice President of Operations at Hydro Massage
  • Barry Myers, MD, PhD, MBA, Director of Innovation, Duke CTSI; Coulter Program Director and Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Duke University and a consultant to the NFLPA
  • Orlando Pace, NFL Legend and tackle who played in the league for 13 seasons, Hall of Famer
  • Thom Parks, Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Bell Sports, Inc.
  • Chad Pennington, NFL Legend and quarterback who played in the league for 11 seasons, 2X Comeback Player of the Year
  • Frank A. Pintar, PhD, Professor and Founding Chair, Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering at Medical College of Wisconsin and Marquette University
  • Chris Valenti, Denver Broncos Head Equipment Manager
  • Beth A. Winkelstein, PhD, Interim Provost, University of Pennsylvania
  • Christopher Withnall, Senior Engineer, Biokinetics and Associates Ltd.

"We have a strong group of judges, each a leader in their respective fields, who will bring their unique perspectives to ensure a full evaluation of each submitted helmet," said Jeff Miller, the NFL's Executive Vice President overseeing the league's health and safety initiatives. "This challenge is the culmination of years of work and continually improving helmets, and we are thrilled to see what innovators and entrepreneurs come up with to set the highest bar yet in helmet design available to NFL players."

In addition to the judges' review of each helmet, prototypes will undergo laboratory testing to determine whether they meet the target Helmet Performance Score (HPS). The laboratory test conditions are intended to represent potentially concussive head impacts in the NFL and is the same process used annually to rank helmets by performance to inform players and club medical, training, coaching and equipment staffs on the top performing helmets currently on the market.

The NFL released the 2021 helmet laboratory testing performance results in April of this year and a helmet prototype eligible to win the NFL Helmet Challenge will need to improve on the current top-performing helmet performance score by more than 15%, which would mark a significant improvement.

"The NFL Helmet Challenge represents the next frontier in helmet innovation that the league has been working toward for some time," said Dr. Jeff Crandall, Head of the NFL's Engineering Committee. "A 15% improvement in helmet performance would be approximately five times greater than the average improvement we see year over year and would be a notable improvement for the industry and for players."