PHILADELPHIA — With concussions skylining the professional circuit, more and more attention is being placed on the health and welfare of football's future stars.
Enter Unequal and its unique Halo protective headgear and summer football players from nearly every corner of Ellis County.
When 128 qualifying teams in split divisions trek to College Station, Texas for the 20th annual Texas 7on7 State Championship on June 29, the Philidelphia-based company will re-introduce the next generation of protection to boys via the two-inch tall multi-colored headbands.
Those teams include players from Kaufman, Midlothian Heritage, Waxahachie.
“For the third consecutive year, we’re proud to play an integral role in promoting safer, smarter play for all 7on7 athletes who are coming to win a championship,” said Jim Caldwell, the executive vice president of Unequal. “The players get to strut their stuff while we get to showcase our highly protective Unequal headgear. Everyone wins."
Unequal projects it to be a winning situation despite the "non-contact" initiative of 7on7 football in the Lone Star State.
"7on7 is not meant to be a contact sport, but we all know collisions happen,” said Derek Gove, the Vice President of Unequal Technologies, about the company’s product in a 2015 press release. “Halo soft head protection is exactly what the sport has needed to help improve player safety and performance without affecting the spirit of the non-impact game.”
According to the product specifications, all Unequal Halo headgear products are designed to look just like a headband while offering serious protection to reduce the risk of concussions. Each Halo contains a patented, military-grade, coated aramid fabric that uniquely reduces acceleration, a major factor in reducing concussion risk, and absorbs and disperses impact force.
Dr. Rance A. Boren, the Head Athletic Trainer at Brownwood High School said in June 2015 article by the Brownwood Bulletin that he believes concussions go well beyond football. In fact, he noted athletes most at risk are the ones without the proper helmet, padding, and neck muscle strength.
While football players are — for the most part — bigger, faster and stronger than most other athletes, they are much better equipped than other sports, according to Boren. He noted a soccer goalie banging his head into the post, two players colliding while going up for a header or a baseball player getting hit by a line drive as likely concussion recipients.
And while Unequal is the one of the most recent to extend a stylish olive branch of safety to the non-professional sports community, it wasn't the company to do so. Riddell, an Elyria, Ohio-headquartered company, has made several improvements to its helmet technology during the last decade — from working to build a Multidirectional Protection System that reduces rotational forces
It wasn't the first effort to decrease risk to players and increase safety for both hitters and hittees, either.
The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) was formed in 1969 to be the “leading force in the effort to improve athletic equipment and, as a result, reduce injuries.” That mantra applied to football, baseball, hockey, lacrosse, soccer and polo across the NCAA, National Federation of State High School Associations, and various other regulatory bodies.
Still, though, the issue of natural occurrence of collision in a physical sport like football exists at the professional, collegiate, high school and youth football levels, leaving the NFL, NCAA, NFHS and Pop Warner leagues scrambling to find a permanent solution to the problem.
The National Center for Disease control estimates professional football players receive as many as 1,500 hits to the head in a single season, depending on their position. That's 15,000 in a 10-year playing career, not to mention any blows they received in college, high school, and peewee football.
Their studies also revealed there are as many as 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur in the U.S. each year. That number includes not only professionals but amateurs of all levels, including children.
Per data compiled by QuintilesIMS Injury Surveillance and Analytics, there were 1,097 total reported concussions in the National Football League between 2012 and 2016. While the majority of the injuries (92) were results of helmet-to-helmet contact, 36 percent — edging toward half — came from contact with the playing surface (29) and contact with an opposing player's shoulder (23).
The 52 concussions incurred from non-helmet-to-helmet collisions are possible in the world of high school and 7-on-7 football. A study by Zachary Kerr and Datalys Center for Sports Injury Research and Prevention, in Indianapolis covering four of that six-year span (2012-2014) showed that that high school football players had the highest average number of reported symptoms of concussion (5.60).
They were followed by college athletes (5.56) and youth players (4.76). Kerr said the inclusion of dedicated athletic trainers, as well as the rise in awareness of concussions and the use of concussion protocols, have helped lower those rates.
"Most colleges have an athletic trainer on the field during football games and practices to help spot and treat injuries, he said. "However, a number of high schools do not have access to a full-time athletic trainer, and many youth football leagues do not have any access. An investment in an athletic trainer at these games and practices is an investment in the health and safety of our adolescent and children athletes."
When some of the best Texas-bred football talent invades College Station’s Veterans Park and Athletic Complex, a 150-acre facility with 11 multipurpose athletic fields, they will do so win, lose or draw. They'll also do it with a veritable rainbow of protective headbands that are required for play.
Regardless of the winner and a couple months of props before players return to 2-a-days and the grind of the high school football season, Doug Stephens, the Executive Director of the Fox Sports Southwest 7 on 7 Tournament, said safety is paramount on the road to the summer title.
“The kids who will be traveling to play in the Texas 7on7 Championships all want the bragging rights that come with winning it all—that’s certainly a key focus,” said Doug Stephens, executive director of the organization. “One of our main focuses is keeping the players safe. We’re delighted to partner with Unequal again this year to give our players the best chance to play safe, competitive games with required Unequal headgear to lower the risk of head injuries.”
Research of former Brownwood Bulletin staff member and current Daily Light Managing Editor Travis M. Smith contributed to this article.