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How Tragic Events Shape Evolution of Sports Safety Gear

By Mason White 10:40 AM September 4, 2014
Riding bike illustration 

By: Aarav Sen
Thanks to technology, and a better understanding of our bodies and muscle development, athletes are bigger, faster and stronger than ever.

It’s only in recent years that some sports are finally catching up to match the physicality of today’s athletes with the needed safety measures to protect them.

Among the most important sports gear that has evolved are mouthguards, helmets and padding.

Mouthguards

When watching professional football, boxing or even baseball or hockey, it’s hard to imagine any athlete playing without a mouthguard.

Mouthguards weren’t invented until shortly after a 1927 boxing match between Mike McTigue and Jack Sharkey, in which McTigue chipped a tooth, forcing him to forfeit the match, according to Keystone Industries.

Dr. Clarence Mayer, a dentist and boxing inspector at the time, thought up the idea of making a mouthguard out of wax and rubber to protect athletes’ mouths and teeth from severe injury.

It took another 20 years before the mouthguard took shape as an acrylic mold to fit over both the upper and lower teeth. At the time, dental injuries made up as much as half of sports-related injuries.

Today, there are a variety of mouthguards to choose from. Moreover, mouthguards are so advanced athletes can even choose flavored ones like the MoGo mouthguard, which comes in bubble gum, lemon, fruit punch, mint or orange.

Helmets and Padding

It can arguably be said that since the deaths of San Diego Chargers player Junior Seau and NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt, implementation of better safety gear has skyrocketed to the top of the priority list.

In the NFL, concussions have been as common as fumbles and interceptions since the game’s creation in the 1860s. Seau’s battle with degenerative brain disease, allegedly caused by the multiple impacts he endured during his pro football career, led to his suicide.

This event brought the issue of concussions to the forefront of not only the NFL, but to every parent of a young athlete.

Now that we understand how much a concussion can affect a player—both long term and short term—sports gear companies like Riddell, have made major improvements in the way helmets are made.

Riddell has created a helmet called SpeedFlex that minimizes a vicious hit by diverting or diffusing the energy of an impact. The helmet also has sensors that can gather and relay data to the sideline after each impact, helping coaches and trainers understand the severity and next steps to take to protect the player.

As many as 30 football teams are testing this product and the helmets are expected to make their game day debut this fall.

Even football practices are becoming safer, at least in college. A new product called Guardian Caps (padding that fits over a football helmet) has some college football teams making them standard equipment.

The padded polyurethane fabric shells have been said to reduce head impacts by up to 33 percent in lab tests. They’ve now become so popular that as many as 35 states have at least one school football team using them.

Helmets have always been high priority in any sport involving wheels, and they are top sellers on gear sites like BikeBandit.com.

From motorcycles and dirt bike racing to NASCAR, safety gear is no longer nerdy—it’s absolutely essential. Drivers of all kinds found this out when Dale Earnhardt, crashed into a wall during a race in 2001, suffering a basilar skull fracture that eventually killed him.

Safety experts immediately began rethinking driver protection. Thus, head restraints, padded walls and impact-cushioned vehicles were improved, so the sports involving wheels can continue.