For players looking to preserve their domes to the highest standards possible, protection comes at a cost. The NFL and NFLPA crafted a rigorous test to identify the safest headgear on the market. They ranked dozens of helmets, including 11 affordable helmets that they prohibited from use in the NFL entirely.
There was a clear winner: the Vicis ZERO1 Football Helmet. The cost? Prepare yourself: $950. Is it worth the premium? Let’s find out.
How a cutting-edge padding material revolutionized NFL safety
NFL helmets have a long history of iterations, dating back to the loose leather models from the first half of the 1900s. The accelerated changes from the 1980s, especially after the concussion panic of the 2000s, led to many smaller changes over a much shorter timeframe.
The most effective innovation happened just a few years ago. In 2017, a new padding alternative to the traditional foam emerged. Thermoplastic Urethane Cushioning, or TPU, morphs to absorb impacts far more consistently than any other padding in existence.
Seattle startup Vicis created the first consumer-level designs for these helmets, which coincided with a worrying rise in concussions in the NFL. Vicis’ football focus caught the attention of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. The startup is now working to apply these impact-absorbent helmets to military applications.
NFL concussion rates since the tightened helmet regulations
Amidst rising public worries over concussions, the NFL recorded a 16% rise in incidents from 2016 to 2017. This put additional attention on a shocking 2017 study, which found that 99% of former NFL players showed signs of degenerative brain disease.
The NFL quickly responded, tightening helmet standards. This immediately had positive results, with a 24% decrease in concussions from 2017 to 2018.
The main reason for this? Likely the adoption of the Vicis ZERO1 helmet for the 2018 NFL season. Twenty-eight of 32 teams had at least one player wearing the helmet, which still tops the NFL and NFLPA’s safety list. The helmet also received a five-star rating from Virginia Tech’s respected helmet ratings list.
How helmet cost increases align with real-world results
Is the cost really worth the safety of the ZERO1 and similar helmets? Or are NFL concussion decreases more about the general tightening of standards and the dismissal of grandfathered-in old helmets?
For now, it seems like the premium price tag is a necessity. This is because the padding isn’t the entire story. The ZERO1 brings impact-absorbing technology to every part of the helmet, including the face mask and outer shell. The rest of the helmet participates in spreading out the impact while the TPU is the final line of defense.
The ZERO1 also has a specific underrated safety benefit. The pillars of TPU allow for some design generosity that traditional foam helmets (that meet safety standards) do not. The visor is wider than similar helmets, allowing for a wider field of view.
This helps with gameplay, of course. But it also allows players to react to hits without being blindsided nearly as often — a common complaint with many modern, approved helmets.
The technology is also available in a youth form factor as of 2019. That version, at $495, still carries the sticker shock. But this investment may be the best way to enjoy football without dealing with grievous head injuries as often.
The cost is high, but it’s a game-changer in a sport that desperately needs to address head injuries.
Follow more updates from Sportscasting on our Facebook page.