WEST LAFAYETTE – The football head injury experts featured in recent Sports Illustrated coverage of Junior Seau’s brain injuries say new brain-saving helmet technology is available that would massively decrease energy delivered to the brain during impacts.
Eric Nauman, Purdue University Neurotrauma Group biomechanical engineering professor, has patented a new helmet liner that reduces G-force to a player’s brain by 50 percent. Nauman says reducing energy to the brain would be a huge leap forward for helmets that have remained largely unchanged for more than 30 years.
“Hard-shell football helmets like Seau and millions of other players have used are designed to prevent skull fractures,” Nauman says. “They were never meant to prevent concussions or longer-term brain damage.”
Autopsies revealed that Seau suffered from the degenerative brain condition chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) that often is diagnosed postmortem in people who have suffered multiple brain injuries. Despite anecdotal evidence from teammates, Seau was never diagnosed with a concussion despite thousands of blows to his head over more than a quarter century playing the game.
Nauman worked on the new liner with fellow inventors at Purdue's Human Injury Research and Regenerative Technologies after he spent years documenting what football impacts were doing to the brains of high school players. Tom Talavage, a co-researcher and Purdue biomedical engineering professor, says preventing concussions is laudable, but it is a red herring because it is subconcussive blows that create long-term damage.
Talavage says that since 94 percent of players quit playing before college, getting better helmets on teenagers would have broad benefits, including for future college and NFL players. Even high school players can hit with up to 250 Gs of force to the brain.
The Purdue Neurotrauma Group's football brain injury research has been featured in Sports Illustrated, HBO Real Sports, NBC Nightly News, PBS Frontline, CNN American Morning, Discovery Channel Daily Planet and other media.