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Health, Science & Tech

NFL Grants $100K To Local Company For Concussion Protection Technology

Fred Vuich
Pittsburgh Steelers Running Back James Conner is tackled by Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Darqueze Dennard on Sunday, October 22, 2017.

Concussions and head-related trauma have become a major concern for football players, from the National Football League to pee-wee games.

Credit Courtesy of 2nd Skull
Courtesy of 2nd Skull
The 2nd Skull skullcap.

Earlier this fall, Pittsburgh-based company 2nd Skull received a $100,000 grant from the NFL to improve a product that could help combat the issue.

The company manufactures a thin skullcap that is meant to be worn under the helmet. It’s made of a lightweight material called PORON XRD.

“It’s flexible, soft and breathable at rest, but upon impact, it immediately hardens and absorbs the impact. Then it goes back to being soft and malleable again,” said 2nd Skull CEO Vaughan Blaxter.

The skullcap helps lessen the blow of direct impacts to the head. It also weakens hits that twist a player’s head and neck: before the helmet can start taking the player’s head with it, it slides across the surface of the skullcap, absorbing an extra chunk of energy.

Credit Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Vaughan Blaxter at 2nd Skull's offices in Bloomfield. Blaxter has previously served in positions such as Vice President and General Counsel at the Hillman Company in Pittsburgh.

Blaxter said the skullcap can’t prevent every possible concussion. But, he pointed out, seatbelts can't prevent every injury from a car accident, and yet wearing them is the law in most states.

“When I was young, nobody wore seatbelts. Now, everybody wears them,” said Blaxter.

The grant money from the NFL will help pay for experimentation with potential improvements, including increased breathability. The product will also be put through testing by the NFL.

Blaxter said he would like to increase the product’s usage among youth athletes, both in football and in other sports, such as hockey and lacrosse. The company also manufactures a headband from the same material, meant for non-helmet sports such as soccer.