How a Mouth Guard Can Save a Life

Posted By J.T. Kimbell
Program Manager

If you want to get me excited, talk to me about sports. Ask me to play some pickup basketball, to watch some American football, or nerd out with a computer game like Football Manager. The competition, strategy, and feats of athleticism found in sports just seem to tickle my fancy. I can’t wait for my children to get old enough to compete, so they can get the experiences and life lessons that sports teach so well.

But there’s a cloud hanging over many team sports: concussions and the serious impact they can have on the well-being of athletes. The issue has been discussed for years, but articles like the one written by Malcom Gladwell in 2009, and the increasing awareness of former athletes who commit suicide after head injury, have brought the discussion to the forefront of the sporting world. The link between contact sports, especially football, and brain damage are real, and are concerning for younger children and teenagers. I love football…but do I want my son to play it in high school? We’ll see, but I never would have had questioned this just ten years ago.

I’m not the only one who’s concerned; many smart people are trying to find ways to allow athletes to continue on in these sports while greatly minimizing the risk. From better helmets to stricter rules in youth sports, we’re seeing advancements. Ultimately, I think the best ideas will be those that take advantage of modern technology, which is getting cheaper, faster and smaller every year.

That’s why I thought that the recent series of articles that have highlighted X2Impact, a technology company that creates services that aid in tracking and managing concussions and other brain trauma in sports were so interesting. They’ve even reached an agreement to have their technology used by several NFL teams.

The technology that’s been highlighted is a great example of an intelligent system, starting with a mouth guard that has sensors and computer systems embedded with it and continuing all the way to Windows Azure and a client application. It’s a relatively straightforward integration of technology into sports, and can definitely work to improve the game. I hope this project succeeds and encourages similar projects.

Despite how high-tech watching the games at home has become, the on-field and in-stadium sports experiences still have a way to go to catch up to where they need to be. Whether through goal-line technology in soccer, providing better Wi-Fi coverage at stadiums or providing league-wide coverage for fantasy sport junkies, the experiences for players and fans could certainly be improved by technology.

I used to enjoy an ESPN segment called Jacked Up. Maybe with continued advances in technology like this, I can look forward to those kind of segments again without worrying about the brains and future lives of the players.

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