Dr. Steven Novicky is the founder of Shockstrip, a protective device that reduces head-to-head impact in sports. Dr. Novicky joins the program to talk about the latest news on his product, his thoughts on the retirement of young NFL players, and what leagues are doing to keep their players safe.
What was your reaction to Chris Borland’s retirement?
I was shocked when I heard the news, but I have to applaud his effort to stand up. I also support his decision a thousand percent. It’s a courageous decision, a smart decision. It sends out a message to equipment companies saying that we need better protection for our athletes.
So yeah, a guy like Chris Borland walking away from the NFL is like a small crack in the system; he’s the guy who took the first, monumental steps. Historically, it ranks among the greatest moments for athletes, because you have a guy saying “I’m not taking this anymore.” Now, we’re starting to see other players go, “If one guy does it, something’s got to be going on.”
[From my perspective], when you see a guy like Chris walk away from the game, it’s a double-edged sword. Because on one side, I think, “This is the guy taking a stand.” But on the flip side, I’m hurt and torn on the inside, because here’s a guy walking away from the game he loves. But you’ve got to respect his decision.
What’s the latest update on your product?
We had another fantastic season — Shockstrip has been in over 12,500 games now. We’re no longer using adhesive; we collaborated with 3M this past season and tested on several teams a new way to put the Shockstrip on helmets. With the tape that 3M has come up with, [Shockstrip] is much easier to put on; now about 5 minutes versus the 45-minute adhesive. You could be in a tuxedo or a gown and put these on.
They are game ready in 24 hours and you can remove them at the end of the season with no residue, so the helmet can be recondition. We’re excited! It was a pretty great year for us and we head into 2015 with a nice push.
What have you learned from the development of Shockstrip over the years?
The biggest thing we’ve seen is how Shockstrip has evolved, like how difficult and complicated it was to put on a helmet to where it’s so simple to put on now. We’ve seen the validity of it in over 12,500 games. We hope the naysayers are out there saying, “Hey, this device really works.” And for those who have always been proponents of Shockstrip, they’re really standing up and applauding. In the two years that you and I have been talking, we’ve really made advances of Shockstrip and the effectiveness of it.
What about the impact of Shockstrip on other sport?
I don’t want to mention different leagues, but one of the more prominent hockey leagues in the United States has stepped up and presented to us. They’ve said, “Look, we have a problem. We need help here.” We’re currently working with this league about potentially getting Shockstrip on the helmets. The league is looking at some of the testing, and we’ve tested with them. They’re sitting back and saying, “We’re going to make the first step here, we’re concerned about our players.”
I’m not saying that other leagues are not concerned about their players, but [that hockey league] is putting an emphasis on their players; trying to limit helmet-to-board, helmet-to-helmet, and — unfortunately — helmet-to-ice impact, where ice always wins. So it’s nice to see some of the leagues — some of the more prominent leagues — step in and say “We need to do more about this, tell us about what’s going on here.”
What’s the most important aspect for a league — testing, research, or patience — when deciding on use of a product like Shockstrip?
Hockey has been the most receptive league. They’re looking into it and have already made aggressive steps forward to potentially put the device on their helmet next season. And you’re right; with some of the other leagues, you get some caution, patience. But now we’ve got 12,500 games, I have a comparative study coming out of teams with and without Shockstrip, and we’ve also jumped into the UnderArmor NFL GE helmet head-health challenge. So, [leagues] are starting to see the validity of the device and the longevity to it. So closed eyes are really starting to open up, and we’re happy to see that.
So is there a possibility that within the next few years, these big, attractive leagues start wearing your product?
Yes. I’m not going to go into detail, but there’s some things going on now. … I would say in the next couple of years that yes we will see it on high-level players.
You have players walking away on the NFL and walking away from college because they’re not getting the protection they feel they should get. I was really surprised this past winter that I got a lot of DM’s on Twitter from NFL players saying, “Look, we wanted you to know that we’re pushing for this device. We’re pushing to get something out there.” And I think with the UnderArmor head challenge, that’s going to shed a lot of light on my devices and other devices out there to protect these players because that’s what we have to do.
So yeah, there’s a possibility that you could see some guys put it on in Spring football.
As Roger Goodell looks for solutions to the concussion problem, what do you think will happen in the interim?
Well, what you’ll see is other companies start to make helmets and they’re going to make ones that have protection on them, like my Shockstrip or some different type of padding on the inside. For all you UnderArmor fans, hear me now and believe me later: I’m predicting that in the next 3 years UnderArmor puts a football helmet on the market and what they will do is buck the system for the betterment of the player.
What do you think it will take for the NFL to say, “Alright, enough is enough.” Let’s forego the boundaries and just institute some change in the league?
What’s going to have to happen? You’re going to have to see players like Chris Borland walk away from the game, and then see players start to die on the field. These guys are going at each other so hard, and that’s the problem. These [players] are just stronger and faster. They are large and strong and powerful men. If we do not give them the proper equipment to play the game, it’s going to get consistently uglier. It’s great that Borland left the game, but it’s a shame that great players will walk from the game. Unfortunately, though, that’s when the NFL will say, “We’re losing great players and we’ve got to stop this.” Or, Under Armor comes out with a great helmet in the next couple of years, and you have players saying, “We want to wear that helmet.”