Over the past few years, the NFL has been getting a lot of heat about its players’ health and safety.
Studies have shown players have suffered repeated concussions and other head injuries, and until recently, the NFL had few policies to protect its players in the event of a concussion. Several players have tried suing the NFL asking for better medical care in response to the dangers of head injuries.
Last night at an event at the Innovation Loft, NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle brought up an interesting solution to these issues: wearable devices.
It’s obviously still in early testing and talks, but McKenna-Doyle said the NFL is looking into how wearable devices could help the league better ensure the safety of its players.
“The health and safety of our players [is] the utmost priority for us, and we do believe that wearables can continue to help us monitor, measure, and help players know when it’s safe to return to the game,” McKenna-Doyle said at the event. “And so how we use technology, everything from new concussion assessment testing that we’re doing to partnering with the military and others in coming up with new technology, I think wearables is going to be a really key component of that in the future.”
The military is testing different devices that could help prevent brain injuries in the battlefield, and the NFL is working with the military to see if any of its technology could be applied to the football field.
The NFL is also partnering with GE to find new technologies that can keep its players safe. They’re giving out grants to help people develop new ideas, and a panel of experts led by GE will be vetting the ideas to see what can become a reality.
Beyond the use case of preventing head injuries, wearable devices are also being tested by the NFL for other benefits such as improving stats and play review.
The NFL is testing a chip that is embedded in players’ shoulder pads and can track the players’ movements. The chip uses radio frequency identification signals to identify the route of a player and see how a play develops. The league tested the chip on several teams last year, and it is expanding to more teams this year, with the hopes of having it in use across the league by the following season.
A wearable chip has the potential to both improve coaches and players ability to train and learn from games as well as to improve the way games are broadcasted. If the stats are accurate enough they could even be used to provide real-time analytics during a game.
“If you watch a broadcast and you see the cool graphics where they will put circles around players and show them moving around, that’s all done in real-time post-production so it’s not happening in the broadcast,” McKenna-Doyle said. “They have a graphics person over there that’s doing it real quick. But what if you could make it embedded in the broadcast and be able to see that play evolve?”
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