On the Money

Coming to an NFL game near you, the Zero1, a helmet that helps guard against brain injuries

Key Points
  • With brain injuries a hot topic in the NFL, one of the stars of this year's season is a new helmet that helps protect against head injuries.
  • The Zero1 by VICIS is already being used by players on the Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks.
High-tech helmet
High-tech helmet

It's September, and the National Football League has returned. Yet shadowing the game again this season are growing concerns about players' brain health and safety.

In July, a neurological study revealed that the brains of more than 100 former football players were found to have a disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition linked to frequent blows to the head and concussions. CTE has become a hot button topic in the NFL, with the league going out of its way to safeguard players from its ravages.

"This has become not a sports protection problem, but a public health concern," VICIS CEO and co-founder Dave Marver told CNBC's "On the Money" recently. VICIS is a Seattle-based startup that's developed a new type of football helmet — called the Zero1 — they say can reduce the game's impact on the brain.

"70 NFL players are using it already out of the gate," Marver said. In Thursday night's Patriots-Chiefs season opener, "about a dozen of the Kansas City Chiefs were wearing the Zero1," including quarterback Alex Smith, Marver said.

In a laboratory study, the NFL and the NFL Players Association tested 33 helmets from different manufacturers, and the VICIS Zero1 came out on top.

Already, "about half the NFL teams have purchased this helmet already. So we think that's terrific for the first year."

Quarterback Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks rushes under pressure from defensive lineman Allen Bailey #97 of the Kansas City Chiefs at CenturyLink Field on August 25, 2017 in Seattle, Washington.
Getty Images

VICIS's helmet comes with a $1,500 price tag, which is about three to five time more costly than current helmets.

Compared to the existing equipment in use, Marver said VICIS's more flexible helmet has "been completely redesigned. Today's helmets have a hard outer shell and a little bit of padding. This one actually yields like a car bumper when impacted."

Players who've used it, "say it feels different in a collision," Marver told CNBC. "They're not feeling the severity of the impact as much. They're not having 'white-out' moments, they're not seeing stars."

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who uses the helmet, told Marver that "he likes that he can see the whole field." Other players say they "appreciate the wider field of view and that's both a safety and a performance feature."

Earlier this year, researchers at Boston University's CTE Center found evidence of the degenerative brain disease in the brains of 110 of the 111 deceased NFL players they had studied.

The study added to the raging discussion about player safety, and the NFL has raised the bar on on-field penalties that could hurt players. That said, can a different helmet design stop concussions from occurring?

"…We're not claiming it can prevent concussions," Marver said. "However, it is the best helmet ever tested at reducing the severity of head impacts."

He acknowledged that "a helmet alone isn't going to take care of everything. It has to be accompanied by better tackling techniques, better coaching and so forth. But we're hopeful this is going to make a big difference."

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