Through his career, Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison has been suspended for a game and fined well over $100,000 for hits the NFL deemed illegal, but when it came to concussion protection and prevention, Harrison had to find his own solution outside the boundaries of the NFL.
The four-time Pro Bowler now uses a helmet with CRT padding by Unequal Technologies, which adapts equipment used by military personnel for their own protection.
The helmets weigh more, but after suffering what he estimates to be "double-digit" concussions, Harrison doesn't care, and neither do the more than 100 players who have joined him in using the technology.
"To protect my head I'd take a pound more," he told the Associated Press. "I haven't seen any spots or had any blackouts."
Harrison wasn't given the heads-up by a league that continues to insist that it's being proactive about head injuries and hasn't done enough to advance helmet technology in recent years -- he was told about it by Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch, a member of the NFLPA's Executive Council, introduced player representatives to it last year. Harrison, looking for additional protection around his head and face after fracturing his orbital bone, found that the padding had many benefits.
Unequal technologies president Robert Vito told the AP that while the company does not claim that its products prevent concussions, anecdotal data based on player testimonials indicate that they're on to something. The padding includes a layer of Kevlar, the material used in bulletproof vests.
"Anybody who tells you they can prevent or stop concussions, you should walk away. No such product exists,'' Vito said at a Tuesday news conference. Vito said that the added padding voids helmet warranties for the thousands of amateur athletes who use it, so the company has taken the step to assume those warranties.
Harrison, who has long been critical of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, wanted to know why advanced helmet technology isn't given more than lip service by the league.
"The league is mandating next year that we wear thigh and knee pads," Harrison said. "I don't know how many people's career has been ended on a thigh or knee bruise. We have guys now that are 30, 31 years old that are having to quit the game because they have severe headaches ... I think you should be focusing more on [the helmet] than knee or thigh pads."
"We are aware of it and are looking into it," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told USA Today of the padding, adding that "It is currently the player's choice" whether to use it.
Why the NFL isn't jumping to join this particular campaign -- or spearheading it, so to speak -- is a legitimate question.
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