Dec 3, 2015 4:05 PM

NH1 News Investigates: UNH studies helmetless hitting in hopes to avoid concussions in football


DURHAM - Head injuries in sports have become a major problem, and the University of New Hampshire is conducting research to battle them - in a pretty surprising way.

This year there have even been a number of deaths related to football, and some experts say helmets could be giving players a false sense of security.

The sports research being done at UNH is getting national attention as it could effect the future of football and the safety of players.

Helmetless tackling might sound strange but that's what professor Erik Swartz at UNH is using, in hopes to make sports safer from youth football all the way to the NFL.

"A light bulb goes off and they're like I get it; I get what this is and I can see how it can work," said Swartz.

For years it's been about making better equipment to protect athletes.

Now the focus is changing techniques in the game to reduce the growing number of head injuries.

Swartz used to play rugby where the hits aren't led with the head covered in a helmet, but at a lower point of contact - a different method of taking down an opponent which he said changes the point of impact to a safer one.

"How do I turn that research concept and see if I can train football players to actually go into contact without their head?" Swartz questioned as he prepared to take on this study.

Over the last year of tracking games and practices at UNH, Swartz used sensors to collect data from players.

In a total of 40,000 hits, he looked at the force and location of impact, then compared players who wore helmets to those who weren't. Experts indicate this research will help in other medical studies.

"Someone that had a lot of hits, they were predisposed to depression," said Dr. Adrian Thomas, NH1 News' Chief Medical Expert, about other concussion research related to football.

Swartz believes that the research his team is doing is the foundation for saving today's children from tomorrows brutal head injuries.

"It might take a half dozen years, it might take a decade but that's what drives me and I think we might be able to do it."

Swartz hopes to take his research on the road and look at football tackling habits in other parts of the country.

USA Football's 'Heads Up' initiative is aimed to address this very topic.

Their website demonstrates safer tackling techniques to protect the head and neck.

They also have guides for parents, coaches and officials.

For more information on the study and its findings, visit their website,


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