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Helmet Finish Related to Safety?


WavePunter

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A big "fad" recently has been the addition of so many more helmet "textures" (chrome, matte, gloss, flat, metallic, etc.), and one of the more popular trends seems to be the matte look (especially matte black, which several people here are calling for for pro team redesigns), and I just wanted to share my personal experience and get your thoughts...

First, some background on me and how I developed my opinion: I'm the head equipment manager at Newberry College (NCAA DII), so I'm fairly well-versed on helmet finishes, durability, etc., and I see how our "Panthers Silver" painted helmets hold up throughout a season. We previously had plain white polished plastic shells as well. And my brother-in-law is the head coach at Northeastern State (also DII), and I personally create and apply their helmet decals to their matte black painted helmets.

There are really only 2 ways to color helmets, mold them out of properly colored plastic or paint them. Then you have the option to polish the plastic vs. leaving it flat (think Ravens vs Steelers) or clear-coating the paint vs leaving it matte (back of Jags helmet vs front of Jags helmet). This means that there are essentially 4 basic finishes for helmets; flat plastic, polished plastic, coated paint, & matte paint (not to mention the various combinations and crossovers)

I say this to preface my basic thought on the topic:

Obviously the colored plastic helmets hold their color the best since there's no paint to chip off, but in-general I would argue that the helmet's finish can actually have a substantial impact on player safety. A highly polished colored plastic helmet or a well-coated and polished metallic paint helmet will actually "slide" or "glide" across one another, sort of "deflecting" the impact of the hit MUCH better than an unpolished plastic helmet or matte paint helmet. When applying Northeastern State's decals in August the week of their first game, I noticed several of their matte black helmets chipping VERY badly already, and also that their helmets had cuts, nicks, and gashes that were WAY worse than anything I had seen with our glossy metallic silver helmets. This is because the unpolished plastic helmets and matte paint helmets aren't as "slick" as polished helmets, and therefore have a tendency to "stick" upon impact (especially impact with another unpolished/matte helmet).

If energy from hits isn't being deflected properly, and helmet contact is being prolonged during a hit, and force is being concentrated directly into the helmet more than necessary, then it's easy to see how a helmet's finish (although aesthetically pleasing) may create bigger underlying issues. I'm not sure if anyone else has noticed any correlation, but this certainly seems to be the trend within the small sample I have access to. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of the matte/unpolished look anyway because a regular colored helmet gives the same look IMO, but is much more common, cheaper, and less hassle. I know custom colors and metallic/chrome finishes have to be painted for obvious reasons, but I feel like every finish should be a polished one based on what I've seen.

It should also be noted that NSU had 4X more concussions than we did this year.

I think doing simple research like this and finding these types of solutions is far superior to ridiculous things like the NFL's 1-helmet rule.

Thoughts?

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Very interesting observations. For accuracy, perhaps the thread title should read "Helmet Finish Related To Safety?" since the difference is about finish rather than color (i.e., polished black is potentially safer than matte black).

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Did you punt at Tulane?

Anyway, interesting theory. My gut reaction is that it's unlikely to make a difference. However, if we based everything on gut reactions, we'd be in the stone age. Is yours a research university? This could be worth exploring.

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If you doubt that a good coat of wax can effectively reduce drag, then I humbly submit the following case study:

Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! How long until someone gets thrown out for having too much wax on their helmet?"

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That's a pretty interesting observation. My guess would be the difference is negligible, but who knows. I'd love to see a study done on the subject... and hopefully the results could justify banning matte helmet finishes for ever and ever.

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Counter hypothesis: It's doubtful that a helmet finish will prevent a player's brain from slamming up against their skull during a high impact hit. Helmet safety is engineered from the inside out and the amount of force applied during direct hits to the head overwhelms the minimal amount of friction that a less smooth finish adds. Until there's a helmet that stops brain movement the exact same time head movement halts at impact there will never be a concussion reducing helmet.

Here's a bad analogy but focusing on a helmet finish for safety is like focusing on the paint job's effects on the aerodynamics of a ferrari fxx Sure there might be a negligible difference on drag but it's not enough to make a significant impact one way or another.

Last observational point is that the CTE cases were seeing now are mostly from the 80's-90's which was the most popular era for molded plastic and high gloss painted finishes.

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I think on the helmet to helmet hits, the impact would be softened by the glossy since they would glance off of each other rather than come to a complete halt as they hit each other.

I certainly could see a glancing blow being better on the movement of the head & thus the brain.

How much that would help that is the question?

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Counter hypothesis: It's doubtful that a helmet finish will prevent a player's brain from slamming up against their skull during a high impact hit. Helmet safety is engineered from the inside out and the amount of force applied during direct hits to the head overwhelms the minimal amount of friction that a less smooth finish adds. Until there's a helmet that stops brain movement the exact same time head movement halts at impact there will never be a concussion reducing helmet.

Here's a bad analogy but focusing on a helmet finish for safety is like focusing on the paint job's effects on the aerodynamics of a ferrari fxx Sure there might be a negligible difference on drag but it's not enough to make a significant impact one way or another.

Last observational point is that the CTE cases were seeing now are mostly from the 80's-90's which was the most popular era for molded plastic and high gloss painted finishes.

Yeah, like I learned from the Sidney Crosby affair, it's not the impact so much as it's the brain swimming around inside making contact with the skull yes?

If there was a way to design a sports helmet that would absorb impact rather than try to deflect it like a wall yes? I dunno, I'm neither a sports equipment person nor a doctor lols.

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I think on the helmet to helmet hits, the impact would be softened by the glossy since they would glance off of each other rather than come to a complete halt as they hit each other.

I certainly could see a glancing blow being better on the movement of the head & thus the brain.

How much that would help that is the question?

As WavePunter noted from observation, even at the high school level the impacts are so freaking intense now that the finish will fail and crack/chip off before there's ever any significant friction that would impact the natural movement of a helmet to helmet blow.

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I understand what causes concussions, but as many have alluded to, the reduced friction would create more of a "glancing" blow.. a change of direction is much less likely to result in the brain sloshing around the skull than an abrupt stop.. obviously, each hit would not have such starkly-contrasting results based solely on helmet finish, but I think the difference in each and every hit, especially when compounded over time, begin to make a huge difference. I also think the additional friction created by the helmets slightly "sticking" is somewhat greater than most people realize. The differences add up.. more friction = greater immediate deceleration due to initial "stickiness" of matte vs gloss, less "ricochet" which forces the brain more in the same direction towards the skull, plus more continued overall deceleration due to not sliding off as well and not increasing the angles of deflection which prolongs the overall contact between the two helmets that much longer, ultimately have much more dramatic impact on the brain for each individual hit.. vs gloss finish, which immediately "glances" the blow more, reducing initial deceleration, more fluid change of direction due to better ricochet which results in less inertia-driven impact of the brain on the skull, plus reduced overall drag due to a slicker finish and increased angle of deflection, resulting in a much less dramatic reduction in velocity and therefore much less severe overall affect on the brain..

Clearly I'm breaking this down to the most miniscule level, but like I said, the hits compound over time, and the benefits would increase with severity of the hit, so overall, I'd say it really does matter much more than it would appear at first glance

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Thanks for posting your observations. I had mentioned this a few months ago and was disappointed a deeper discussion didn't happen (I'm an engineer, so this topic is really intriguing to me).

For reference, here are my thoughts from a previous thread:

If the Washington uniform is any indication it looks like they and HGI might be experimenting with textures on helmets of course the first one they did is the Redskins "leather" helmet so its not completley new

What they will do is hard to say because theres so many options they havent touched yet. Different vinal graphic finishes, colors, fabrics in uniforms. They actually have been copying themselves so much the last few years it wouldnt surprise me if the next big new trend comes from UA or adidas

I dont have any solid proof i can share but ive said before i think they are developing a really next level NFL uniform. And that might even include them getting into the helmet manufacturing business

The texture on helmets is such a bad, bad, bad thing. It will (if not policed soon) produce a nasty head injury in some player someday as they become increasingly rougher. I wouldn't be shocked if matte on matte in some instances leads to further head trauma as well.

While it might look cool (in the eyes of some, anyway), it's definitely something that is counterproductive to the "avoid head trauma" push sweeping football (and with helmet manufacturers).

paint doesn't alter the integrity of a football helmet, they have been painting helmets for about as long as they have had helmets, the finish does not change that either.

I'm not talking about the integrity of the helmet. I'm talking about the contact surface (i.e. the paint finish). A textured finish has a different coefficient of friction than a glossy/smooth finish. In certain angles of contact, it's absolutely plausible that the helmets could "stick" briefly due to friction. A textured finish is going to increase the likelihood of that occurring relative to a smooth surface.

Is it likely that someone suffers a head injury from this? Pretty damn unlikely. I'm not interested in running through the math to figure out what kind of forces different finishes could impart on a head-helmet system, but is it a possibility that should be considered and avoided? Absolutely. Just as people are concerned about the size of the holes on facemasks/helmets/other padding providing opportunities for fingers to get caught and sheared off, people should be concerned about the texture on a helmet.

If I'm a respective league, I'd put out metrics that dictate acceptable ranges for helmet finish smoothness to avoid potential issues in this area. The "popcorn" finish on the Washington helmet to me raises a huge red flag about potential safety issues.

EDIT: Adding to this, I have a different perspective on things than I think the majority of the population of this board does (I am an engineering student). There are tons of things that look awesome on paper and in practice, but at some point, someone has to reign things in. I think the textures on helmets - with the introduction of this Washington lid - is one of those areas where someone needs to start pumping the brakes.

I think you got it. I'd imagine that slick-glossy helmets would tend to slide past each other after the initial contact, while flat to textured domes might stay in contact longer - even if only a second. That extra second of heads pressing against each other with the force of NFL bodies behind them cant be good.

In fairness to the counter argument, I'd really, really doubt that friction between the surfaces of a helmet is going to be a significant player in the large majority of collisions. Thinking of the worst-case scenario - perfectly parallel collision between helmets, without rotation, and at just the right velocity so that static friction becomes a player - is what concerns me. Off the top of my head, I'm not sure where that speed would be for such a contact, but it's something that would concern me enough to not want to find out that a player got hurt because their awesome frost finish "stuck" to another textured helmet.

The issue with most head injuries in the NFL is rapid acceleration/deceleration of the skull. Newer helmets help to cushion that acceleration/deceleration with changes in how the helmet reacts to a hit (i.e. relocation of padding and the jaw extension on the Riddell Revolution...the reshaping of the facemask on the Riddell Speed...the flex facemask on the Speed 360...the flex panel on the SpeedFlex). All of these things permit the head to continue moving forward, but the skull's accel/decel is better controlled. Friction between helmets unquestionably will change that rate of acceleration and - more concerning to me - encourage rotation of the skull. Whereas a glancing blow on the side of the helmet would be just that, a blow with a textured surface would induce some moment about the neck and introduce an opportunity for the brain to rotate left-right of the direction of travel.

tl;dr - textured surfaces very well could force heads to rotate on contact, and it - depending on the forces in the contact - could lead to an increased risk of head trauma.

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Great little thread there. I'm right there with you. I hadn't put much thought into head rotation and neck issues, but if anything, that strengthens our argument. I also think the decals play a big role, especially the oversized ones and super-wide striping patterns. That vinyl is pretty thick and sticky and could do just as much to worsen a hit as a helmet finish could

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This sounds like something MythBusters would do. Prepare the life-sized gelatin molds and get us some helmets!

Seriously though, what are the types of helmet finishes out there? I can think of the following:

- gloss

- Satin

- Chrome

- Matte

- Textured ("frost")

- Unfinished, meaning no paint paint or effect added whatsoever, used as a control

That's all I've got. You'd have to pit one model against another, with each finish colliding with another as well as a like-helmet.

Yay Science!

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Great little thread there. I'm right there with you. I hadn't put much thought into head rotation and neck issues, but if anything, that strengthens our argument. I also think the decals play a big role, especially the oversized ones and super-wide striping patterns. That vinyl is pretty thick and sticky and could do just as much to worsen a hit as a helmet finish could

You don't have much of an argument. The force of impact will overwhelm any additional friction provided by a matte finish. You could likely even measure it but the statistical significance in terms of determining the trajectory of the blow or recoil would not be statistically significant.

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Great little thread there. I'm right there with you. I hadn't put much thought into head rotation and neck issues, but if anything, that strengthens our argument. I also think the decals play a big role, especially the oversized ones and super-wide striping patterns. That vinyl is pretty thick and sticky and could do just as much to worsen a hit as a helmet finish could

You don't have much of an argument. The force of impact will overwhelm any additional friction provided by a matte finish. You could likely even measure it but the statistical significance in terms of determining the trajectory of the blow or recoil would not be statistically significant.

i think there's a pretty strong argument that helmet finish (and possibly decal material) could have a measurable amount of influence on player safety in helmet-to-helmet collisions. most collisions aren't perfectly centered, head-on collisions, in exact opposite directions, on the exact same plane, at a perfect angle. They're normally off-center, random angles, etc., so the force of impact will be affected by deflection of the opposing helmet due in some part to the level of friction of the helmets, based on their finish. the main point here through all of this is that the brain slams up against the inside of the skull due to inertia when the the skull abruptly descelerates. anything that increases the rate of desceleration contributes to an increase in player risk for potential head injury. i would say there has been a pretty clear case represented that certain helmet finishes promote an increased rate of desceleration due to an increase in fricion, thus providing an increased risk to the player. i'm not sure what the differences are, and for all i know, they may be negligible (although ANY difference, when compounded over time, becomes a much bigger issue), but none of us truly know, so people's opinions don't hold much water when this needs to be determined by scientific experiment (thus making the results more "fact" than "opinion").

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I've long thought that matte pants/jerseys would be easier to tackle than their dazzle fabric counterparts so I can see the logic in saying that matte helmets may cause an extra millisecond of contact that after so many hits adds up. It's not crazy.

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