Founder's Blog by Vin Ferrara.
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Conversations about concussions often naturally turn into conversations about helmets, and unfortunately, this talk is usually uninformative or inaccurate.  The talk ranges from star ratings to blaming helmets for concussions to seeking a new helmet as a quick-fix solution to a player’s severe concussion issue. 

One line of thinking is that helmets “can’t prevent concussions” and therefore one’s particular helmet choice doesn’t really matter.  This logic supports the fallacy that “a helmet’s a helmet” and any company that tells you its helmet is better is lying.

This false logic arises in part from the fact that a helmet will not guarantee concussion prevention.  However, this does mean that helmets “can’t prevent concussions.”  It is likely that helmets often prevent concussions, just not 100% of the time. 

The false logic of “a helmet’s a helmet” also arises in part from the fact that clinically comparing helmets to each other for concussion reduction is very difficult if not impossible, leading to a lack of evidence to support a clear benefit of one helmet over another in this regard.  Gathering clinical information on concussions is no doubt challenging.  However the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.  A lack of clinical evidence has caused many people to make the “argument from ignorance” that helmets don’t matter. 

Just because definitive proof has not yet been gathered about a particular helmet’s ability to reduce the risk of concussions by any specific degree, it does not mean there is no helmet that reduces the risk of concussion more than others.  It may just be that the data to prove this hasn’t yet been gathered.  It doesn’t mean a superior product doesn’t exist, and it certainly doesn’t mean it can’t be developed.

A defeatist attitude, and statements like “no helmet can prevent concussions,” not only spread the wrong message, they potentially hinder innovation by minimizing investment in new technology.  The willingness of teams or individuals to purchase new products may also be minimized, leaving populations of players in older products that may be less than optimal.

While we may not yet completely understand the effects of any given helmet on a particular person or population, what’s on your head when it gets hit matters.  The difference between helmet technologies is important.  Concussive episodes result from sudden movements of the head: minimizing sudden movement of the head, even by millimeters and milliseconds, may have dramatic effects. 

The human body is very susceptible to small changes, meaning that millimeters and milliseconds count.  To prove this, go for a run in your wooden heeled work shoes, and note how your ankles, knees, and hips feel afterwards.  The difference between wooden heels and typical running shoes is millimeters and milliseconds of compression. 

A helmet is not a helmet.  What’s on your head when it gets hit matters.  It matters just as much as, and arguably much more than, what is on your feet when you go for a run.   

Education on Football Helmets

During the summer of 2008 I attended a sports concussion conference at which I presented, and at which we displayed our then brand new Xenith X1 Football Helmet.  Our helmet was displayed on a table covered by our Xenith-branded drape reading “Advancing Safety & Activity Through Innovation & Education.”  We spent a tremendous amount of time developing that line, which reflects Xenith’s mission statement. 

An energetic gentleman walked up and said, “I’ve never seen a helmet company talk about education.”  He was right.  Helmet companies never had talked about education, until Xenith. 

I told him, “thanks for noticing that,” and introduced myself.  He said, “I’m Coach Bobby Hosea.  I run tackling camps.”  I told him that I was very interested in that subject and suggested perhaps we could work together.  In that brief moment, a connection was made and a partnership was born.

What more important educational topic than proper tackling for football players? What more important educational topic for a company that makes helmets, and was founded to advance safety and activity through innovation and education?  More innovative head protection, coupled with better technique to reduce blows to the head in the first place: a powerful combination. 

The Facts On Football Helmet Safety

The fact is that I was, and still am not, an expert on tackling.  I played defensive end as a youth football player and free safety in high school, but I don’t feel like I ever really learned how to tackle the right way.  I basically threw my head and shoulders at players’ legs and hoped for the best.  This technique is not necessarily effective, not at all safe, and not at all uncommon.  It is definitely not recommended. 

During the conversation with Coach Bobby, he challenged me to show him my idea of proper tackling.  I put my lack of knowledge on display by dipping my shoulder, but at least keeping my eyes up, following the recent and lame “see what you hit” advice. 

Coach Bobby said, “You are still leading with your head, even if your eyes are up.  Now your head is at risk and you’re going to get knocked over because you’re not in a powerful position.”  He briefly demonstrated his Dip n’ Rip technique, showing how to deliver an upward force while leading with the chest and hips, and not the head.  It was one of those “moments of enlightenment” and I wanted to know more. 

Given that we were in a small lobby area, it was not an ideal teaching environment.  He said, “You need to come and watch me teach.  I’m doing a clinic tomorrow.  It’s about an hour away from here.”  I told him I would come.  I don’t think he believed me, because when I showed up the next day, he appeared very pleasantly surprised.  I have a policy that when I tell people I’m showing up, I show up. 

I watched Coach Bobby teach his Dip n’ Rip technique, unlike anything I had seen, to what I would estimate was about a dozen young players, who were focused on his every word.  Coach Bobby’s energy level was amazing, and he was “laugh out loud” funny too.  I thought “this guy is really on to something,” and I wanted to help.  I also spent some time on tackling dummies myself. 

It was obvious that the physics of his tackling technique make a profound difference in reducing the number of blows to the head, by teaching players to make contact with their chests and shoulders, while generating energy from the legs and hips.  Done properly, the head barely comes into contact, if at all.  It also improves tackling efficiency, so it’s a win-win situation.  See the Dip n’ Rip technique here.

I decided right then that I needed to help Coach Bobby spread his word, so Xenith began contributing to his tackling camp in a variety of ways, including subsidizing costs and providing gear, simply to help him be heard.  I really wish we could do more, and hope one day that we will. 

It appears he really was on to something.  In 2010, Coach Bobby was the subject of an article in the NY Times and a couple of weeks ago, Coach Bobby was demonstrating his technique, now called “helmet free tackle” not to just a dozen kids, but to hundreds of other coaches. 

It’s simply great to see this education spreading, and to see someone with the energy and commitment of Coach Bobby Hosea being heard.  I’m happy that we could help in a small way, and his success makes me optimistic about the future of football.  I’m glad I showed up at his camp, and Xenith will continue to show up on education. 

Follow Xenith for More Education on Football Helmets

Xenith recently released a promotional video, which juxtaposes imagery of Baltimore Ravens All-Pro running back Ray Rice playing football and playing chess. 

One blogger’s commentary included the following:

“I’m not exactly sure what chess has to do with football helmets. 
I guess chess is supposedly for enlightened people, and enlightened people supposedly protect their enlightened minds with Xenith helmets.  Anyway, the commercial Ray Rice did with Xenith is pretty cool”

I agree that the commercial is pretty cool, and I certainly think wearing Xenith helmets is an enlightened thing to do, but there’s much more to it than that. 

When I founded Xenith, I did so with a vision of not only completely rethinking the way helmets were designed, but also rethinking the way football was played, the way football players were viewed, and the way they viewed themselves.

I wanted to deliver innovation and education, in order to create better helmets and to help promote a smarter way of playing football.  I also wanted to do away with the imagery of the aggressive thug or dumb jock.

The results of these efforts are the Xenith X2 Football Helmet, and the Enlightened Warrior. 

The benefits of our X2 Football Helmet can be found on our website, in stores, by talking to us on the phone, or by wearing it.  The characteristics of an Enlightened Warrior are contained in the Xenith Enlightened Warrior Creed, which contains lines such as:

I am tough, and I am smart.

I am always focused, and always aware

I am well informed, and well equipped

I am prepared for any battle

My strength, my speed, and my intelligence are my weapons

I believe that Ray Rice is an Enlightened Warrior.  He wears a Xenith X2.  During the 2011 NFL season, Ray Rice led the NFL in yards from scrimmage while earning his fourth trip to the pro bowl, and while leading the Ravens to a near-birth in the Super Bowl.  His talents on the field are obvious.  It’s his off-field characteristics that make him so interesting, and so enlightened.

Rice recently signed a contract extension with the Ravens, and General Manager Ozzie Newsome stated, “His production on the field speaks for itself, and his leadership in the locker room is outstanding. I should say something about his community efforts; I think they are almost unmatched by any player in the NFL. You’d have a hard time finding a player who does more or is as serious about helping others as Ray is. He is one of those players you can proudly say, ‘He’s on our team.’ “

So, that’s one great example of what it means to be an Enlightened Warrior.  But what does that have to do with chess?  To understand this, start by reading this Balitmore Sun Article on Ray Rice, and how his mother introduced him to chess as a means to keep him focused as he overcame some incredible odds as child.

Ray’s use of chess to calm his mind and to keep him focused struck a chord with me, and I felt that this was a perfect opportunity to demonstrate with words, pictures, and music what it means to be an Enlightened Warrior.  I think this video nailed it.

Ray uses not only his strength and his speed, but he uses his intelligence.  He understands the importance of staying focused and of anticipating an opponent’s next move; he does this both in football and in chess.  Chess helps him play football.  To him, football is chess.  How perfect. 

Football has been cast as a violent gladiator spectacle, and the injurious consequences of this are apparent.  It’s time to re-cast football for what it was intended to be, which is a game that combines physicality with intelligence, in what is ultimately a strategic game, much like chess.  If you like football, you’ll like chess. 

Coaches and players spend countless hours on the “Xs and Os” of football, and each play mimics a chess match.   In football, mental preparation is just as important as physical preparation.  Your brain is just as important as your body.  Your brain must be protected, and it must be used to its fullest. 

So, Ray Rice wears a Xenith X2 and plays chess to help his mind, which helps him play football, and will also help him with his pursuits later in life.  He is not a dumb jock and he is not a thug.  He is an Enlightened Warrior.

That’s what chess has to do with football helmets.