By Brian Yauger
A saying in the Mahoning Valley is that “everything goes through Youngstown.” The NFL is one thing that keeps finding its way back here.
For the second time this year, the NFL made a stop in Youngstown, this time for the NFL Helmet Challenge Symposium.
In a collaboration between the NFL and Youngstown-based company America Makes, the goal of the symposium is to kick off a contest to develop safer football helmets that will reduce the risk of concussions for athletes.
“We’re hoping to encourage innovation to see a really transformative advancement in football helmets, particularly helmets that can be used in the NFL,” Amy Jorgensen, director of health and safety initiatives for the NFL, said.
The league is hoping the competition aspect will lead to the safest possible equipment for the players.
“We have biomechanical engineers that work in conjunction with the NFLPA, and we test all helmets that are on our fields,” Jennifer Langton, senior vice president of health and safety innovation for the NFL, said. “What we want here is to introduce those helmets, but we want to stimulate the marketplace so they will make a better helmet that outperforms those that are on our field today.”
One person associated with the NFL’s Department of Player Health and Innovation helped to bring the event to Youngstown.
“Our owner, Dr. John York, is from here, and he has a very good relationship with America Makes,” Langton said. “The Cleveland, Ohio, team is right here in the backyard as well. It serves for a very good location because of the disciplines that we’re pulling together that did have the footprint here.”
That footprint extends back to the beginning of Youngstown, which has been an industry capital throughout its history.
Being involved with the NFL Helmet Challenge is seen as a way for Youngstown to maintain its industry roots while coming into the 21st century.
“We were always on the cutting-edge in the industrial revolution,” Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan said. “Now we’re on the cutting-edge of this next revolution, the fourth industrial revolution here in Youngstown. It’s fitting that you are here, and it’s fitting that we’re doing this for football.”
Ryan was one of several guest speakers in the three-day event, and he talked about how sports are ingrained in the DNA of the city and the teamwork that made that happen.
“We’re a hotbed for sports,” he said. “You can’t turn the TV on Saturday or Sunday and not hear about the York Family, the DeBartolo family, or coaches all over the United States who they say are from Youngstown, Ohio, or are from the Mahoning Valley. But all of our victories here came from teamwork. All of them.”
The winner of the contest will receive $1 million to continue research. As for when football fans could see these prototypes hit the field, Langton estimates the wait isn’t as long as you may expect.
“We have 18 months where we can really fund research and developmental programs so that they can design and manufacture a helmet to be submitted for that challenge,” Langton said. “It’s about 18 months of development, processing that we’ll do and fund. Then, in 2020, we’ll ask for a full submission of a helmet to be tested.”
When the testing process is over, production could start as early as late 2021.