In December 2015, Will Smith took to the big screen to play a forensic pathologist who took on the NFL about traumatic brain injuries and subsequent diseases, especially chronic traumatic encephalopathy. At the same time, a product was in development that now is poised to reduce the chance of these brain injuries.
That product, ProTech, is a shell that can be attached to a variety of football helmets, primarily those models produced by Riddell and Schutt. Created by Defend Your Head, a Pennsylvania-based company founded by two former football players, John Roman and Glenn Tilley, the ProTech shell is designed to absorb and redistribute the impact of a hit to the head. The two joined forces over a shared desire to make football safer.
The shell is made of a polyurethane foam, as opposed to the polycarbonate material used to make helmets. This design aligns with proven science that a soft object, when impacted by a harder object, diffuses kinetic energy. ProTech’s polyurethane composition also means that it is slicker than a normal helmet, preventing dangerous blows from the side from having greater impact with the head. The shell moves over the helmet as it is impacted to deflect hits away from the head.
“We’re making a difference, and that’s what’s driven all of us to come together,” Roman, who was an offensive lineman for the New York Jets, told SportTechie. “We’re seeing evidence and feedback from players in the field that our product has the ability to reduce helmet collision force.”
Such evidence can be found at Holy Cross in Massachusetts. In May, the college’s athletic department moved to continue a two-year relationship with Defend Your Head after seeing the effectiveness of ProTech on its football team’s safety. Holy Cross was one of ProTech’s first users, and has since recommended the product to other teams in the Patriot League.
“At Holy Cross we are always looking for ways to improve the student-athlete experience,” Holy Cross athletic director Nathan Pine said in a statement. “ProTech has helped us do that by providing a safer environment for our student-athletes in the sport of football—which is important because that improves their experience not only on the gridiron but also in the classroom.”
According to Tilley, ProTech will be widely used this fall among youth, high school, and college football markets in an approach that seeks to gain feedback and traction to break into the NFL. Currently, Defend Your Head is in talks with the NFL, and certain players have come to the company to ask about using ProTech, Tilley said.
Currently, ProTech is used by players at Western Carolina University and, for the second season in a row, Penn State, where ProTech’s presence has grown from 10 players to about 40, according to Roman. It is also present at other schools as well. Defend Your Head is now in its third year of getting feedback and talking with coaches, equipment managers and trainers at a number of college football programs.
“This year, we’ve taken a little bit more of an aggressive step, and I think we’re in a good place to speak from substance, to say that we’re now out there,” Tilley said. “We’re on the field at different levels, and we’re doing our part to help make the game safer— and that feels very good.”
Down the line, Roman sees opportunities to partner with the major helmet manufacturers. Roman said that one undisclosed helmet maker has already approached Defend Your Head. Eventually, when teams order helmets, ProTech could very well be included as standard safety technology.
“Having played the game professionally for over a decade I have seen the damage that can be done first hand,” Roman said in a statement after research was published showing 110 of 111 deceased former NFL players who had their brains examined were shown to have CTE. “My post-football life has been spent addressing the issue of head trauma in football, which is what compelled me to establish Defend Your Head. We have made great progress in our effort to make the game safer for football players of all ages as evidenced by over 100 organizations utilizing our technology nationwide this year, but more work needs to be done.”