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An NFL Opportunity for Startups

The National Football League has already enforced over 40 rule changes since 2002 and invested in extensive research to protect players’ safety, but NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell believes there is still plenty of room for innovative solutions.

Over the past decade, the NFL has increased efforts towards protecting against concussions and head injuries among its athletes through new technology.

In a letter released last month announcing the NFL’s newest health initiative – Play Smart. Play Safe. — Goodell said,

“The NFL has been a leader on health and safety in many ways, and we’ve made some real strides in recent years. But when it comes to addressing head injuries in our game, I’m not satisfied, and neither are the owners of the NFL’s 32 clubs.”

Head Health Challenge

According to Frontline’s Concussion Watch, there were 199 concussions in the 2015 professional football season, which is the highest recorded since Concussion Watch was launched in 2012.

These numbers verify the need for solutions to the evolving concern surrounding head injuries, which is why avid sports fans shouldn’t be the only ones excited about football this season. There are opportunities for health startups and innovators in this arena, too.

As a part of the NFL’s Head Health Initiative, this two-year plan, divided up into three separate challenges, engaged innovators around the globe to provide solutions to an ongoing head trauma and concussions. In 2014, Challenge I finalists focused on improving the speed of diagnosis and treatment for mild traumatic brain injury.

In 2015, Challenge II winners sought to better protect players against brain injury. Winners of the third challenge are scheduled to be announced in early 2017, and are tasked with finding materials and equipment to protect athletes from head trauma.

The launch of Play Smart. Play Safe. comes as the Head Health Challenge wraps up. The challenge incentivized innovators and scientists to create technology that can efficiently diagnose, identify and protect against head and brain injuries. Both initiatives are aimed at finding solutions to preventing concussions — a safety issue that continues to plague the sport. Goodell said,

“A central goal of this new effort is to help us understand more about the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and long-term impact of concussions and brain injury.”

When it comes to football, NFL’s battle with concussions has frequently been at the center of public discourse because of how often these injuries have impacted athletes over the years.

Beyond the NFL

The number of concussions and head injuries recorded among football players not only concerns fans, but also impacts parents. In an article by the American Academy of Pediatrics, AAP Council member William Meehan, III highlighted how difficult the decision of whether or not to play football can be for parents. He said,

“Parents and players will need to decide whether the health risks associated with tackling are outweighed by the recreational benefits of the game.”

Through initiatives like the Head Health Challenge and Play Smart. Play Safe., the NFL hopes to address parents’ concerns and worries. The NFL’s research and hunt for innovation, while definitely meant to benefit athletes, is not limited to football.

Contego, one of 1776’s Challenge Cup Global finalists this year, is working to do just that. The Ireland-based startup is developing protective headgear that can reduce the impact of collisions on the field that commonly result in concussions.

According to the Play Smart. Play Safe. website, the NFL intends to make any progress available to be used by military personnel and the general public. A key element of the initiative is to “share progress,” making the solutions and lessons discovered available for people in all fields.

From Pop Warner leagues to the Department of Defense, health innovators and startups have an invaluable opportunity to make a lasting impact that surpasses the world of sports.

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Chelsea Tyson

Chelsea Tyson recently graduated from Regent University and is working to pursue a degree in journalism. She previously interned at 1776 where she developed a passion for writing about the…