CHICAGO - Despite being a concern in multiple sports, football-related concussions have been in the spotlight for several years now and the concern is on all levels of play.
Former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson is considered one of the greatest in franchise history. Not only did he win two Super Bowls in his career, he also held the record for the most sacks in a season by a defensive back for nearly two decades. But those victories came with a price. Duerson suffered at least 10 known concussions.
After retiring from football, his mental health deteriorated. Duerson died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2011. He was just 50 years old.
"It will always be a primary interest of ours," said Jeff Miller, NFL Executive Vice President of Player Health and Safety. "We are pleased concussions have dropped about 25% across the league in the last few years, but that’s not success. We’re looking to decrease that yet further and concussion is only one metric."
Miller knows all the in's and out's for the league's game plan to reduce head injuries.
"It’s a multi part strategy. Equipment is a big piece of it, but it’s not the only part, and we’ll continue to alter the rules of the game and practices to players as safe as we can," Miller said.
Just last year, the NFL required certain players to wear a Guardian Cap in training camp. FOX 32 got an up-close look at one during a recent Bears practice session.
This year, the league added another position to the list and increased the wearing time to all preseason and regular season contact practices.
"The reason we wanted to put Guardian Caps on last year for the first time is because of the intensity of the practices right at the beginning of the preseason," Miller said.
Miller says they were pleasantly surprised by what it could do.
"We saw among that period of time, among the positions that were affected, a decrease of about 52% in concussions compared to a three-year average," he said.
"A Guardian Cap is just a very light soft padded shell that goes over any existing helmet," said Erin Hanson, co-founder and CEO of Guardian Sports. "And it just attaches through Velcro. Elastic straps that Velcro around the face mask."
Based in suburban Atlanta, Erin and Lee Hanson are the founders of Guardian Sports, maker of the Guardian Cap. They have been making them for over a decade.
"So you’re getting moving plates on top of the helmet that redirects that force around the helmet. So that when you get hit that force goes around the helmet," said Lee Hanson, co-founder and President of Guardian Sports.
The Hanson’s say their goal wasn’t to make a concussion-proof product but to reduce the impact and hopefully make a difference.
From Halas Hall to Bennett Field Stadium, Lyons Township High School football players are also donning the cap in practice.
"We’ve seen a significant reduction in the number of concussions during practices," said Jon Beutier, head football coach at Lyons Township. "Which is again, any time you can make practices safer for the kids and reduce concussions, that’s a great thing."
Senior Jack McQueeney is a receiver and a safety for Lyons Township. He knows what it’s like to have a concussion.
"I had one from wrestling last year. And yeah, that was my only one. Definitely don’t want to have another one," McQueeney said.
That’s why he and his teammates don’t seem to mind the Guardian Cap.
"I mean it’s just something you don’t even have to think about it. It just goes on your helmet. It’s not even like a hassle at all," McQueeney said.
"I think like personally when I get hit in practice, because you get a blitzing linebacker every now and again, my head doesn’t feel as rattled when I’m wearing it," said Cooper Kamsthoeft, a junior Lyons Township center and defensive tackle.
Rush University Medical Center's Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth knows a thing or two about sports and concussions.
That’s just a few of the teams she works with. She's also co-director of the NFL's neuro-psychology program.
FOX 32 News asked Pieroth if adding extra padding to the outside of a football helmet could help reduce player head injuries.
"So the jury is still out on that. The NFL is looking at additional things you can put on top of the helmet. There are other products that go inside the helmet. And so the problem is you cannot prevent the brain from moving inside the skull," she said.
"Some of the researchers are looking at does it also increase the contact between the players? Meaning if one player had hit the other, and it sticks even for a millisecond, does that increase the force? So that’s why helmets are slippery."
Pieroth says there is currently no foolproof way to prevent a concussion, which is why when it comes to football, she tells players and parents to focus on the following.
"It’s technique. Making sure that you are keeping your head out of the tackle or the block. It’s equipment. Making sure you are using an approved helmet that is in good shape and it fits properly. Fit is incredibly important when it comes to protection," she said.
For resources on helmet safety ratings and how to make sure your helmet fits properly, you can visit the following websites: