Utah Utes quarterback Cameron Rising took a hard sack in this year’s Rose Bowl, causing his head to snap back against the turf.
It was similar to the hit he endured in the same bowl a year earlier and a play seen across football, most notably this past season with the Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa, who suffered multiple concussions.
Unlike the 2022 game, when Rising lay prone for several moments before wobbling off the field with a concussion, he popped back up this year. He credited a new, lighter helmet for the different outcomes.
“And it felt … like a pretty good hit, and it was no pop, no issue whatsoever,” Rising said. “My neck was able to brace for it more. And I think that definitely did take some load off of that impact.”
Rising’s neck could control his head better, he contended, because of the lighter helmet, which is at the heart of an increasingly tense dispute between the company that makes the headwear and the NFL and NFLPA. Rising’s experience aside, the league and the players’ union will not allow the headwear manufactured by Light Helmets onto their fields because the equipment does not pass the biomechanical tests run by the league’s advisors.
Every NFL locker room is adorned with a poster detailing the NFL-eligible helmets with rankings. Light’s competitors Riddell, Schutt, Xenith and Vicis, all with heavier helmets, are on the poster.
After declining for several years and despite a nearly decade-long initiative to improve helmet safety through grants and allowing players to wear only the highly rated head coverings, concussions rose 18 percent this past season, according to the NFL. Whether Light Helmets is part of a solution is far from clear, but its battles with the league and union underscore how the test and its apparent bias for heavier weight influence what players can and cannot wear.
“The reason that the helmets are where they are — and they are on the heavy side — is because they’ve gotten bigger over the last five years to test better,” said Dr. Robert Cantu, medical director and director of clinical research of the eponymously named Concussion Center at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Mass. “Since the National Football League put in place testing of helmets using a linear impact — they hit the helmet and then record from a head form inside the helmet … it’s been known that, ‘Gee, if you make it thicker, it tests better.'”