Ep. 8: ‘I wouldn’t put a helmet like that on my dog’

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In 2011, Bill Simpson was watching an Indianapolis Colts game from the sideline. He wasn’t a football fan, but he’d been lured there by his friend Tom Moore, who was the team’s offensive coordinator at the time. During the game, Indianapolis Colts receiver Austin Collie took a terrible hit and was carted from the field with a concussion.

Simpson was shocked, but when he asked Moore, his friend told him “this happens every game.”

Simpson wanted to look at the helmets the Colts were wearing — not out of random interest, but professional curiosity. After all, Simpson had spent a career making helmets and other safety equipment for auto racing. The Colts gave him three helmets to test in his lab and he was not impressed.

“The equipment manager brought me three helmets,” Simpson said. “And I tested them. And I ended up taking them back to the Colts and I said ‘here they are.’ And they said ‘well what’s the results?’ And I said ‘I killed all three of your football players.’ ‘What?’ I said ‘ let me tell you something, I wouldn’t put a helmet like that on my dog.’”

Thus began Simpson’s quest to build a better football helmet.

Simpson focused on weight (think about the importance of Newton’s second law of motion), and built the lightest football helmet on the market. But Simpson experienced a lot of road blocks along the way — it seemed the NFL didn’t care much for this blunt outsider who had no problems criticizing inferior products. After the NFL banned his helmet (Simpson claims they tested a prototype) he gave up, selling the company to Nick Esayian and others, who re-named the company Light Helmets and are carrying the torch forward.

But the debate continues: What is the best way to build a football helmet? Do we need a totally new material? Should the shell be soft? Do we need to re-think them completely? Join the conversation in Episode 8.

Simpson horiz.png

Episode 8 music credits:

Theme song: “Rip My Jeans” — dl-sounds.com

Lobo Loco — “Dirty Old Frogg”, “Hey Go” (license)

(All music edited for time purposes)

More reading:

— “Sterling Marlin’s bump changed everything” (Jacksonville.comRead

— “New football helmet could save the sport” (Popular ScienceRead

— “Founder of SG Helmets defends product after NFL ban” (WTHR.com) Read

— “Local owners of SG Helmets hope to protect next generation of football players” (Rancho Santa Fe Review) Read

— “2018 NFL helmet lab testing performance results” Read

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