As part of ongoing efforts so players can make informed choices about their protective equipment, the NFL and NFLPA released their 2021 helmet laboratory testing performance results. The results of the tests are displayed on a poster and shared with NFL players, in addition to club medical, training, coaching and equipment staffs.
Biomechanical engineers appointed by the NFL and NFLPA ranked 41 total helmet models, including three new models never tested before by the league. All three new helmet models are among the top-10 ranked models, suggesting that improvements in helmet design continue every year.
As a result of the effort in which the NFL and NFLPA have worked together to test and rank helmets, NFL players have continued to upgrade their helmets to those which perform better at reducing head impact severity. Testing results have played an important role in players' equipment selection processes. The 2020 season was the second consecutive year in which more than 99% of NFL players chose top-performing helmets.
"Players have more and better choices than ever before. Continued improvement in helmet design has raised the bar for top performing helmet models," said Jeff Miller, NFL Executive Vice President overseeing Player Health and Safety. "The introduction of the first position-specific helmet is a promising development within the helmet industry to further customize helmets for the unique safety requirements of each position. The NFL and NFLPA have long supported critical innovation in helmet design through our research and innovation challenges by providing necessary data to manufacturers, and we're excited for that effort to yield tangible results."
On the 2021 poster, the top-performing helmets in the laboratory testing are shown in a gradient of green, with darker green helmets performing better than lighter green helmets, and helmets in yellow performing worse than the green helmets. All the helmets that are now in the yellow group were introduced several seasons ago as top-performing helmets, but as a result of industry innovation, newer, better-performing models have raised the standard for what is considered a top-performing helmet.
Using the updated testing methodology adopted in 2020, three previously approved helmets are now prohibited for use by NFL players. Helmets that have previously been prohibited remain so, and no player is permitted to wear a prohibited helmet in the 2021 season. All current NFL players wear helmet models that were tested as part of this study. Eleven approved helmets worn by less than 1% of NFL players for the past two seasons have been moved to a list of legacy helmets. These helmets are still permissible for use and have been color-coded according to the 2021 poster groupings.
All helmets tested in 2021 met the current National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) certification standards to protect players.
The tests are conducted by an independent helmet testing laboratory – Biokinetics Inc. of Ottawa, Canada – and the results are then analyzed by an independent biostatistician.