The IQ inside the Texas Medical Center was high on Saturday, Feb. 4 during the second annual NFL’s 1st and Future competition.
Tech startup groups battled for a $50,000 grand prize, an acceptance into the Texas Medical Center Accelerator and tickets to Super Bowl LI. The competition was compared to a “sports-like Shark Tank.” The companies pitched their ideas to judges on a panel who decided three winners from three different categories.
The idea is to select companies who can bring technology that will make the game not only safer for players but also to change the future of the game and how it is watched. These innovations will make the game more fan-friendly and provide more in-depth content.
Judges included former Miami Dolphins’ quarterback Chad Pennington and Baltimore Ravens’ offensive lineman John Urschel, both very active in the four-minute questioning period of each company.
The event began with introductory remarks from NFL Network’s Scott Hanson who introduced speakers Roger Goodell and GE CEO Jeff Immelt. The executives engaged in a conversation about mental health, concussions and the technology and innovation that is changing sports. Goodell talked about the health care that NFL players currently receive and will receive in the future.
“As an NFL player, you get the best medical care in the world,” he said. “What we are leaning towards is mental health, making counseling available. In addition to that, our big initiative is taking care of the retired players, a lot of that is mental.”
The timing of the competition is not a coincidence. There were 244 concussions in the NFL in 2016, a decrease from 2015 but still high. With more CTE cases being discovered, the topic of head injuries is more popular than ever. Immelt feels that diagnosing concussions is still an inexact science, and should be something that is more important than sending a man to the moon.
The competition was broken down into three categories: “Communicating with the Athlete,” “Training the Athlete” and “Materials to Protect the Athlete.” Each team had four minutes to present their product with an additional four minutes to answer questions from judges.
The winners were GoRout, Mobile Virtual Player and Windpact.
GoRout – The wearable technology allows players to stream communication between the staff. Players, on a heads-up display, are able to receive digital play diagrams instead of checking scout cards and play boards. It can be seen in the facemask or on a wristband.
The technology helps teams run up to 4x as many plays and is built of 100 percent military grade material. The technology has been featured in Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports and is used by the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Mobile Virtual Player – This training platform is a remote-controlled virtual player that is an upgraded tackling dummy. Dartmouth football head coach Buddy Teevens serves as the companies’ chairman. This innovation will lower player injuries and allow for revolutionizing training.
The device is already used in the NFL, specifically by the Pittsburgh Steelers. The product has been featured in outlets such as ESPN, Bleacher Report and the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Windpact – This small product made of foam can be attached to helmets or padding to absorb and disperse impact energy. Former Pro-Bowl NFL veteran Shawn Springs leads the team and wishes this product was available to him when he played.
The device will lower concussions while also taking away the brutal hits of the game. The company has already partnered with Under Armour for production.
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