Staff Editorial

Iowa Hawkeyes are on cutting edge of player safety

An Iowa Hawkeyes helmet sits on the sidelines during the “SWARM Des Moines” football practice at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines on Friday, Apr. 7, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
An Iowa Hawkeyes helmet sits on the sidelines during the “SWARM Des Moines” football practice at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines on Friday, Apr. 7, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

The University of Iowa football team is using new technology to address one of the most pressing issues in American athletics.

Hawkeye players will wear custom-fit helmets during the upcoming football season. The new equipment is expensive, but it’s designed to better protect players from dangerous head injuries which are far too common in contact sports.

Several other college programs across the country have been experimenting with limited numbers of equipment manufacturer Riddell’s Precision-Fit helmets. However, UI athletics officials say they will be the first team in the country to outfit all upperclassmen with the custom helmets.

UI football equipment manager Greg Morris said the devices have been well-received by Hawkeye players testing them out over the past two seasons.

Riddell says its new helmets offer greater protection, and also better performance, by increasing comfort and visibility. Players undergo a three-dimensional scan of their heads, and are able to choose accessories, like different styles of face masks and chin straps.

The custom helmets cost over $1,000 each, more than twice as much as the previous generation of standard-fit helmets. It may seem like a high price, but not if you compare it to the costs associated with brain trauma.

A study published in 2017 found chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, was common among deceased football players. 91 percent of college players and 99 percent of National Football League players were found to have the condition, according to researchers at Boston University’s CTE Center.

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Researchers say CTE is the result of repeated concussions and blows to the head, leading to a long list of terrible symptoms: “memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, suicidality, parkinsonism, and eventually progressive dementia.”

Governing bodies at all levels have made some policy changes to mitigate the impact of concussions, but many worry those changes are not happening quickly enough.

It’s important to note that aside from scholarships and a few other perks, college football players are putting their bodies at risk without compensation. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s own figures, less than 2 percent of college football players will ever play professionally.

The UI athletics program generates more than $100 million in revenue annually. If the program has enough money to pay head football coach Kirk Ferentz $5 million last year, surely $80,000 to protect student-athletes’ brains is a wise investment.

• Comments: (319) 389-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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