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Protective Head Gear in Football

With injuries and collisions occurring more often in the modern game, the issue of safety in football is being addressed in greater detail than just simply suggesting strapping on a pair of shin pads is all that’s required.
In particular, head injuries are a serious problem that are not being looked at in great enough detail. Whilst strapping a dressing over the wound was considered an effective treatment for earlier no-nonsense players like Terry Butcher, advances in science and in common sense generally has led to people taking such situations more seriously.

None more so than worldwide leaders in football headgear Full90, who have created a simple yet revolutionary piece of headwear designed to lessen impact in head collisions. CEO Jeff Skeen is wholeheartedly committed to making sure some form of protective headgear becomes more acceptable when players who want to protect themselves wear it. He has battled with football governing bodies who initially denied a problem exists but now recognizes the severity of the problem and the risk to the sport’s massive participation figure.

Jeff is a successful businessman with a background in developing other forms of protective headgear, including motorcycle helmets. A motorcycle enthusiast himself, he has first-hand experience in how damaging head injuries can be after suffering a series of concussions and brain surgery. It wasn’t until he witnessed his young daughter take a knock to the head whilst playing that he decided to take matters into his own hands and founded Full90 in San Diego, California. His experience in building helmets, teamed with a paternal instinct towards his daughter is perfect inspiration for making sure parents needn’t go through the same concerns and football ultimately becomes a safer sport.

Footballers nowadays are expected to be more than just technically gifted and the need to outdo the competition means players are putting much more effort into physical training, seen more as athletes rather than just football players. This is something Jeff highlights as being a problem when it comes to contact with other players, specifically when challenging for a header. Just imagine Cristiano Ronaldo steaming into a head on head collision with a rampaging Yaya Toure at full speed, chances are it wouldn’t end well.

The problem lies mainly in head to head collisions rather than intentional heading of the ball. The Full90 headgear was the subject of a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine titled “The effect of protective headgear in reducing head injuries in adolescent footballers” which concluded that players not wearing the Full90 headgear had 2.65 times as many concussions as those wearing the headgear. Jeff readily acknowledges that players can be injured and concussed while wearing the headgear but it is about reducing the likelihood.

There is also evidence to suggest that repeated heading can cause problems in later life such as deficits in attention and memory or signs of cerebral atrophy. These issues are surely inflated by a clashing of heads with greater force. The headgear is not designed to mitigate this concern.

A study conducted over one footballing season by Dr Scott Delaney at McGill University; 2010 winner of the Pashby Sports Safety Award, found that around 62% of football players in colleges in America experienced the symptoms of a concussion each season, 81% of which had more than one. Who’s to say that these numbers aren’t the same in professional football?

According to American College of Sports Medicine, around 80% of concussions in football are not diagnosed meaning the overall rate of concussion could be around 50%, a scary statistic considering the potential effects of concussions. Clubs and physios may not even know that a concussion has occurred and misdiagnoses of any conditions can be detrimental to health, in this case mentally.

There is already evidence to suggest retired footballers encounter brain abnormalities in later life, while it’s difficult to identify exactly how they’re caused, it could well be down to head collisions, or they could be a contributing factor. Studies also show that retired footballers are 11 times more likely to have Alzheimer’s than retired swimmers.

Jeff stresses that his headwear will not negatively affect performance in any way and won’t interfere with the heading of a ball, also an inner lining of Cool Max fabric allows for absorption of moisture and sweat so as not to cause uncomforting raises in temperature.

Jeff has encountered speed bumps along the way, namely with FIFA and US Soccer, who were difficult to convince, despite the irrefutable evidence they are keen to gloss over this situation. Initially, when questioned about the issue, they put it down to the increased weight in footballs in earlier footballing eras, Jeff disagrees. That even if the balls where wet, they would travel slower if kicked with the same force.

He found that even in his daughter’s league, the gear was not allowed to be worn and she was asked to remove it, resulting in her suffering another concussion. However, he wasn’t going to let these push backs get in his way “I had three options, I could shoot someone, which I wouldn’t really want to do, sue someone or start a company to address the problem of head injuries, which would really piss them off.” He chose the latter. Jeff’s hard work and battling with the games law makers now seems to be paying off.

The headgear has begun to take off in the US and has been worn by a number of footballers in the MLS, such as San Antonio Scorpion’s Pat Phelan whilst playing at the heart of their defence. Kristopher Tyrpak, another MLS player is currently endorsed by Full90 and has worn their Premier headgear at all times on the pitch since he was at High School. When asked if the Chivas USA striker would recommend the “I would because I’ve gone through so many concussions. If you can do something to avoid getting a concussion, you should.” Now also a popular addition to the USA’s Women’s National team, Jeff believes that in the next ten years, every professional footballer will be wearing similar protection. His rationale is that the choice is between banning heading, since most concussions occur when two players try to head the same ball or protecting the head. There were phony arguments over the years by FIFA that tried to convince the world that with better refereeing, the concussion rate would fall but a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that most of the concussions that occurred were a result of “accidental contact,” not bad refereeing.

Whilst some fans may still take some convincing and see headgear as a novelty or an unnecessary measure in football, it really is no laughing matter. It’s about time we follow in the footsteps of other contact sports that take protection seriously.

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