'Concussion' has become a big buzzword in the football world, as players start speaking up about their head traumas.
"I've seen stars, like in the cartoons," said former NFL running back, Thomas Jones. "I've been hit where I see black spots. I've been hit where I see two of you."
"I legitimately see little blurs in my vision because of head contact," said former Seahawk, NFL offensive guard, John Moffitt. "I think if you play over six, seven years in the NFL, you have a serious chance of your life never being the same."
Seattle's Rich Able has three sons who played high school football, but his middle son Kyle really excelled, eventually becoming the captain of his football team.
"Probably sustaining about 1,200, 1,400 hits a year to his head," said Rich. "When he got knocked out on the field, that was the aha! moment. You know, he's out cold, we went to the hospital, the neurologist said, 'Yeah, he's got a pretty serious concussion.' From that point on it was a downhill spiral. Emotional, irritable, angry. You know, your son's turning into a monster. Academics went all the way down to 2.0. Teachers were emailing me and telling me he couldn't even keep his eyes focused on the blackboard. But he still played football."
So Rich, whose background is in medical devices, co-founded X-2 Biosystems and with the help of his tech savvy partner created a device that's being worn by NFL players and athletes at NCAA schools across the country.
"We've come up with a chip system that affixes right behind the ear. It measures every impact, it collects the data. It can also transmit wirelessly to a tablet system on the sidelines so that a clinician can watch real time, every hit that's occurring. We store the data and the clinicians can look at it. They can make an assessment on a kid too. If a kid's showing a lot of hits, they bring them over to the sidelines and say, 'Hey listen, you how feeling? What day of the week is it?' Very simple way of assessing a kid after he's taken a lot of hits."
The product has been enthusiastically embraced by colleges and pro-teams, but Rich says it was invented for kids, so he hopes to get X2 into every high school in America by the end of this year.
"You're seeing some dramatic drop-off in youth football participation across the country now. I think there's a 25% decline in peewee. It's a lot of parents saying hey, do you want to subject your kid to hundreds or thousands of hits a year to his head while he's playing football? And it's not just boys. Women's soccer is the #2 productive concussion sport in the world. I think everyone needs to take a step back and go, look: we need to watch these kids and give the clinicians the information to help them make better judgements on whether a kid should stay on the field or not."
X2 is only in its second year, so right now they're in the data collection phase, but eventually there will be studies done and perhaps some conclusions reached. And X2 Biosystems is moving beyond sports; they recently agreed to work with the Department of Defense.
"The Surgeon General of the United States of the Department of Defense said that traumatic brain injury in the military is the number one problem. Eighty percent of those injuries occur during training exercises here in the United States. People think that blasts affect soldiers. Of course they do. But really, when you look at what a soldier does, they're out there running around, doing training exercises all the time. They're riding in vehicles, they're hitting their heads, they're jumping out of planes during combat training and they're suffering injuries as well."
Rich says his son Kyle was persuaded not to play football in college and has thankfully recovered from his brain injuries. He emphasizes that his family loves football and saysX2 was not invented to shut it down.
"We're here to help save the game of football. We really are. Our Sports Advisory Board, we've got some prominent football players who believe in our technology. It's also a training tool. If a kid is using his head too much, the coach or the athletic trainer can say, 'Hey man, we're noticing too many hits on the front of your helmet. We need to have hits on your shoulder pads and on your arms.'"
Rich cannot reveal which NFL teams and players are wearing his device, but if you look closely during a game, you may spot an X2 taped behind a players ear.