Michael Raymer • August 15, 2019

You’ve seen the stories. Oakland Raiders wide receiver Antonio Brown likes his old helmet. A lot. So much, in fact, that he’s been insistent on its continued use even after the National Football League (NFL) deemed the helmet to be unsafe and banned Brown from wearing it. Brown is now on the hunt for a newer version of the same model, taking to Twitter to ask for help. But if we might be so bold, we’d like to recommend that Brown consider a VICIS ZERO1 helmet.

Laboratory testing has named the ZERO1 as the safest helmet on the market for three years running. AngelMD was an early investor in VICIS, and NFL team physicians who are on the AngelMD network have been able to compliment the investment to help maximize the company’s success.

While helmet choice may sound trivial, this issue is more complex than it appears. Each player has honed their craft over years of games and practices, many wearing the same helmet since at least their college days. Antonio Brown argues that the feel, weight, and sight lines of the NFL-prescribed helmets would hamper his performance. That said, the ZERO1 boasts a field of view that has been lauded by its wearers.

For the NFL, it’s not only a matter of player safety, but also one of protecting its brand. In recent years, the league has come under fire for an increase in concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a degenerative disease most often found in people with a history of brain trauma, and the incidences are shockingly high within the NFL.

Reducing cases of CTE is exactly why the ZERO1 was brought to the market. Interestingly, the VICIS helmet concept originated from a pediatric neurosurgeon on the AngelMD network.

For the past 100 years, we’ve known NFL players as the gladiators of our times. The equipment used by these gladiators has transformed over the past century. 1889 brought the introduction of the first leather helmet, and the plastic helmet arrived in 1939. Helmets were not made mandatory in the NFL until 1943. The last player in the NFL to play a game without a helmet was Dick Plasman, a running back for the Chicago Bears, in the 1940 NFL Championship game.

But even though the technology has improved, there have still been tragic stories surrounding head injuries from a player’s time on the field.

In the 1990’s, a brash hometown “gladiator” joined the San Diego Chargers. Junior Seau had an illustrious 20-year NFL career, filled with violent hits while playing for both the Chargers and New England Patriots. A couple of years after retiring from the NFL, Seau took his own life with a gun shot to the chest at the age of 43. There is a theory that Junior did not shoot himself in the head because he wanted to preserve his brain for research. A team of independent researchers, who did not know they were studying Seau’s brain, concluded that he suffered from CTE.

“What was found in Junior Seau’s brain was cellular changes consistent with CTE,” said Dr. Russell Lonser, chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery at Ohio State University, who led the study of Seau’s brain while he was at NIH. Although the symptoms of CTE “such as impulsivity, forgetfulness, depression, [and] sometimes suicidal ideation,” are severe, there is no way for a physician to diagnose someone with CTE until after death.

The NFL has responded. The league now mandates that all players use tested and approved helmet technology. The Super Bowl last year was a contrast in player helmet choices. Wes Welker, the MVP of the Super Bowl, wore a VICIS helmet. Tom Brady wore an outdated helmet no longer supported by the NFL. The dramatic divergence in helmet selection is no longer possible according to the new NFL rules.

“You get used to the same helmet for a long period of time. My last helmet, I wore it the last four Super Bowls, so it was a pretty great helmet for me. I hated to put it on the shelf,” said Brady. “It’s kind of what I’m dealing with.”

“I’ve been experimenting with a couple different ones and I don’t love the one that I’m in, but I don’t have much of a choice,” said Brady. “So I’m just trying to do the best I can to work with it.”

Much like Dick Plasman resisting the use of a helmet in 1940, Antonio Brown is trying to buck the NFL’s attempt at player safety.

“About five years ago, there was a lot of energy being put toward sensors and sensing technology, and it struck me that sensing was really after the fact,” said Dr. Samuel Browd, Seattle Children’s Hospital neurosurgeon and VICIS CMO.

“It seemed like there was an opportunity to look at something that may help reduce the risk of concussion or other injuries, and it seemed like the helmet was a logical place to look. As we started to get a little deeper into what current helmets were and what they were intended for, we saw there was an opportunity to innovate in that space.”

At its launch in 2017, the helmet was deemed a top 25 technology innovation and VICIS immediately secured top NFL players like Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks as customers. Today, VICIS has secured significant penetration of the quarterbacks and tight ends in the NFL due to the helmets’ superior safety profile and field of vision. 

The day that our network invests in a company is the day that our members begin working with the company to maximize their success. This approach aligns with AngelMD’s true north goal of facilitating better outcomes for patients, customers, startups, and investors alike. 

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