Riddell Unveils Overhauled New Football Helmet SpeedFlex

The biggest football helmet maker in the U.S. overhauls its design.

August 27, 2014, 8:09 AM

— -- At sports labs across the country, the race is on to find products that protect the brain against injury.

Among the latest innovations: lights that flash after a concussion-causing hit, like the Reebok skull cap called check light, or a product from the Bethesda, Maryland-based company Brain Sentry, which has a sensor that clips on the back of the helmet.

But starting this weekend, as NCAA college teams and NFL football players take to the field, a new technology will be in use. Select players from 16 pro teams and a dozen college football squads have opted to use the newly designed helmet by the biggest helmet manufacturer in the country, Riddell.

The company announced on Tuesday the release of a new football helmet called SpeedFlex. It is the latest advancement to follow major helmet releases by Riddell in the last decade – including the Revolution Speed (2008), and Riddell 360 (2012) – and is designed to reduce the impact of head-to-head collisions so dangerous in America's favorite sport.

"With this helmet we sought to improve player protection while delivering tangible benefits to the athlete," Dan Arment, president of Riddell said in a statement. "We're confident these new features will quickly become design standards for Riddell, and raise the bar for football helmet performance and protective technologies across the industry."

The new helmet flexes to help absorb head impact and incorporates what the company calls its "InSite Impact Response System -- the company's latest head impact monitoring technology."

"The flexible portion of the shell, when it works in conjunction with the padding on the inside of the shell can actually reduce forces more than if the shell was solid," Thad Ide, Riddell's senior vice president of research and product development, told ABC News. "Allowing the helmet to flex during impact could also reduce forces from frontal impact to the players head."

The shell and the lining are created to absorb impact before it gets to the player.

Riddell doesn’t claim its new helmet will stop concussions, or any injury for that matter, but says its flexible panel will absorb more of the energy on impact.

"Diagnosing concussions is for doctors and for trainers," Ide said. "Right now, we can reduce the forces of impact to the players head and that is unequivocally a good thing."

Other manufacturers have added bullet-stopping kevlar to the inside of helmets, but doctors believe many football concussions today are caused by shearing, rotational forces -- when the head snaps back and swerves around on the neck, and the brain slams against the inside of the skull.

"Helmets do protect the head. But they do not necessarily protect the brain from concussion, which is caused by acceleration," David A. Hovda, director of the UCLA Brain Injury Research Center, told ABC News. "Helmets can absorb energy, so it is transmitted around the head differently. But I have not seen any data that would suggest a redesigned helmet would stop/prevent concussion."

Hovda added, however, that “helmet redesign is critical given that many of the currently used helmets incorporate old technology."

"They need to be fitted better for each individual athlete and it is not out of the question to think in terms of a special helmet for different sports, positions, age and gender to name a few variables," he said.

That makes it difficult for even this newest breed of helmets to stop concussions. Perhaps that’s why nowhere in Riddell’s promotional material does the company ever utter football's most dreaded C-word -- concussion.

The product will be available in September and sell for around $320 to $340, with most being sold directly to schools and universities, according to the company.

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