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Former NFLer Merril Hoge talks football safety with new helmet system
Former NFL player and current ESPN analyst Merril Hoge almost lost his life to post-concussion syndrome in 1994.
“I was in cardiac arrest and intensive care for two days,” said Hoge, who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears, and was one of the first players to undergo cognitive testing. “Not only did [a head injury] cost me my career, it almost cost me my life.”
At the time of his forced retirement, Hoge had the longest consecutive playing streak in the NFL. Since then, Hoge has made it a point to promote advancements in concussion prevention and recently spoke about technology advancement at a forum hosted by Riddell Sports in Manhattan.
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Riddell Sports, based in Rosemont, IL and currently the world’s leading helmet maker, has been using the Head Impact Telemetry-Sideline Response System sensor units since 2003. The units are placed inside the helmets of athletes in amateur football programs who choose to participate. But Riddell Sports has recently expanded its technology to include the InSite Impact Response System, which was developed based on millions of data points secured through HIT-SRS.
Currently, more than a dozen high schools across the United States are using InSite, according to Thad Ide, Riddell Sports’ senior vice president of research and product development.
The impact systems, which are designed by New Hampshire-based Simbex, record data every time a player receives a hit to the head and transmit a warning signal to sideline medical personnel who are wearing specialized pagers.
“We think [this is] the game-changer,” Ide said. “[InSite] sends an alert -- or not -- to the sideline based on data. What’s alert-able and what’s not is based on skill level and playing position.”
Dr. Rick Greenwald, Simbex’s founder and president, said that during the last 10 years, two million-plus impacts have been recorded by schools using the technology. “Simbex specializes in biofeedback systems and makes that data actionable,” he said. “The data is used to inform athletes and the training staff. This is not a diagnosis of concussion, this is not a diagnostic tool -- this is to understand what happens on the field.”
Greenwald noted that one of the initial challenges of the HIT/SRS system -- which is very much like the air bag sensors in cars -- was to find appropriate placement on the athletes. “You have to be nonintrusive to measure things on the field in sports,” he said. “You have to find a way to measure athletes that doesn’t interfere with their job -- one of the great places to do that was inside the helmet.”
Scott Blatt, the athletic trainer at Westlake High School in Westlake Village, Calif., started using InSite with his football program this season and is part of the small group currently using this technology. “If an alert goes off, I’ll bring the athlete over to the sidelines and ask basic questions. If I’m comfortable, I’ll let them play -- if not, they’ll [go through] further evaluation. I’ve never had an athlete sustain a concussion and the monitor didn’t go off.”
Hoge believes that with the right preventions and technology in place, football can be played as a safe sport. “If you let kids sit on the couch, play [video games] and eat a doughnut, you’ve jeopardized their health -- [maybe] more than letting them play football with the right tools.”
Brian T. Dessart is a nationally accredited Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, a New York State Critical Care Emergency Medical Technician and an FDNY firefighter. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter: @briandessart.