Sports Cap to Alert Athletes of Dangerous Head Impact

PHOTO: Reebok and the electronics company MC10 have teamed up to create a mesh cap, developed to warn athletes of imminent concussion and brain damage from blows to the head.PlayABC
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Reebok and the electronics company MC10 have teamed up to create a mesh cap intended to measure the severity of blows to the head and alert people around them to check the athlete for possibly serious injury.

Concussions and brain damage from blows to the head have taken center stage in football this year with the diagnosis of the late NFL linebacker Junior Seau, even drawing President Obama into the conversation.

ABC News was given an exclusive first look at the mesh cap, known as CheckLight. It is worn under headgear or a helmet and is lined with sensors that can immediately notify teammates, coaches, trainers and even parents in the stands of the severity of a blow to the head.

The sensor, made by Cambridge, Mass.-based MC10, uses stretchable electronics encased and connected to indicator lights that are inserted inside a Reebok skullcap.

"The device can determine movement -- very, very quick and sudden movements," Paul Litchfield, vice president of advanced concepts at Reebok, told ABC News.

"Through a series of math calculations and algorithms, the lights will either trigger green, meaning low threshold hit; yellow, you're in a moderate magnitude hit; or a red light, meaning you're in a sever magnitude hit."

"There is no way to predict or determine a concussion, particularly with a sporting goods device," Litchfield said. "Our intent was to be able to assess the impact and magnitude that occurred when someone got hit."

The device will also keep count of how many hits, and what magnitude, a player sustains during a game.

Dr. Steven Flanagan, the chairman of Rusk Institute for Rehabilitation Medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center, who did not work on the device and has not seen the research associated with it, said his main concern would be the "false sense of security to trainers, parents, or players" such a device might give.

"My big worry is the false negative," he said. "Everyone says, 'Oh, the light is green,' but the kid may have sustained a concussion."

Flanagan adds that there is a lot about concussions the medical community still doesn't know and that all concussion diagnoses are clinical because there are no tests available to definitively diagnose one.

Litchfield agreed that concussions are "individualistic" and emphasized that the CheckLight is "not meant to be a diagnostics tool. It's meant to be an extra set of eyes on the field."

So that if a player received a high-magnitude hit (red light), he or she should be assessed.

Isaiah Kacyvenski, who played in the NFL for eight seasons with three different teams and helped develop the device, said the new warning system will help players stand up to the culture that urges them to play through damaging hits.

"It takes the issue of toughness out of it. It's an objective measure," Kacyvenski, 36, said.

"The old school way of thinking about it, or you if you're stumbling around, then you try to shake it off," Kacyvenski said. "This [CheckLight] takes [it] out of the hands of the athlete or trainer [and] kind of gets rid of that gray area."

Kacyvenski suffered seven diagnosed concussions during his tenure as a pro athlete from 2000 to 2007, many times playing through the concussions and not telling anyone on the sidelines.

"One so much where I detached the vitreous in both my eyes and kept playing in the game, where I still see floaters in my vision," he recalled.

Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk, who played in the Super Bowl Sunday and works as part of MC10's Sports Advisory Board, says NFL players have an obligation to save the game by making it safer. He has agreed to donate his brain for concussion study after his death and says CheckLight's warning is critical.

"It's not like a broken bone, or something that is very evident to the eye or even to the medical doctor. This device does give you instant feedback," the six-time Pro Bowler, 36, said.

Concussions have been a significant concern for athletes, as technological advances have been made in this field in the past few years.

Impact injuries and concussions have dogged the NFL for years. More than 3,500 former players have sued the NFL, alleging that league officials did too little to inform them about the dangers of concussions and too little is being done today to take care of them.

The NFL has argued it didn't intentionally mislead the players and took steps to protect their health.

More than 30 NFL players have in recent years been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease typically caused by multiple hits to the head.

A team of scientists who analyzed the brain tissue of renowned NFL linebacker Seau after his suicide last year at age 43 have concluded that the football player suffered from CTE, likely caused by two decades worth of hits to the head, researchers and his family exclusively told ABC News and ESPN earlier this month.

"A lot of things, towards the end of his life, patterns that we saw and things that worried us, it makes sense now," Gina Seau, his ex-wife, told ABC News and ESPN.

Reebok told ABC News that the CheckLight device is in its final stages of development and it expects to make them available in June, retailing for $100 to $200.