Weekly Feature



2013-07-10 / Sports

Kelso discusses concussions in football

Bee Group Newspapers Special Report: Heads Up! Head-related Injuries in Sports
by ERIC DEGRECHIE
Reporter


Former Buffalo Bills player Mark Kelso, seen here playing for the Bills prior to his retirement from the NFL in 1993, is now a spokesman for head safety and concussion prevention in football and other sports. 
Photo provided by the Buffalo Bills Former Buffalo Bills player Mark Kelso, seen here playing for the Bills prior to his retirement from the NFL in 1993, is now a spokesman for head safety and concussion prevention in football and other sports. Photo provided by the Buffalo Bills When fans think back to the glory days of the Buffalo Bills in the late 1980s and early 1990s, many images come to mind.

Down 32 points, the Bills pull off a comeback with a miraculous 41-38 overtime win over the Houston Oilers in 1993. Buffalo would go on to appear in its fourth straight Super Bowl that season.

Two years earlier, Scott Norwood lined up for the game-winning field goal in Super Bowl XXV, only to miss.

Those events are commonly referred to simply as “The Comeback” and “Wide Right,” with each getting an instant reaction from fans when mentioned.

Another nickname for an image of that period that will bring quick recognition is “The Helmet,” as worn by former safety Mark Kelso during his eight seasons with the team. The “pro cap” on his helmet was used as a preventive measure for concussions, as he had suffered several on the playing field.


Football players wear Guardian Caps which use a device that was invented to reduce helmet collision momentum transfer. Former Buffalo Bills player Mark Kelso is a spokesman for the company. 
Photo provided by Guardian Caps Football players wear Guardian Caps which use a device that was invented to reduce helmet collision momentum transfer. Former Buffalo Bills player Mark Kelso is a spokesman for the company. Photo provided by Guardian Caps Kelso, who has continued to advocate head safety since his career ended in 1993, is a color commentator for Buffalo Bills radio on WGR 550 and a Development Director at St. Mary’s in Lancaster. He also works with USA Football through its “Heads Up Football” campaign and is a spokesman for Guardian Caps, a maker of a device that was invented to reduce helmet collision momentum transfer. Kelso recently spoke with The Bee about the growing concern of concussions among players in football and other contact sports.

Q: Everyone remembers your special helmet — known as the “pro cap” — during your playing days. I don’t remember you wearing it your whole career. What prompted to you start wearing it?

A: I had some concussions in 1987 and then had another one in 1989. That’s when I started wearing the “pro cap” and continued wearing it for the remainder of my career. It was a product developed by an industrial design engineer out of Erie, Pa., named Bert Straus. He had a friendship with Ed Abramoski, who was the Bills trainer at the time. He was a training legend and the only athletic trainer the Bills had ever had.

I put it on that first day and felt like an eighth-grader playing on the varsity team because there was a lot of ribbing going on. Obviously, it looked very funny, but it was something they said that if I don’t wear it, we’re not going to clear you to play. I certainly wanted to play, but I had a young family at the time as well and didn’t want to jeopardize my long-term health.

It provided a great source of comfort for me and allowed me to play the way I was accustomed to without fear of injury.

Q: Were you the only player in the NFL wearing that helmet at the time?

A: When it first came out in 1989, I wore it against the Rams in a Monday night game. A player by the name of Steve Wallace, who played for the 49ers during their Super Bowl teams of the 90s, wore it extensively, and he has great things to say about it. He’s healthy today and he believes that part of the reason why is that he took advantage of that technology at a time when other people were skeptical of the technology.

A couple of my teammates also wore it. Ray Bentley wore it, too, when he had been in a minor car accident and they were concerned he might have an additional episode. I think he wore it for one or two games. Don Beebe wore it one year. He had an injury the prior week, and they wanted him to wear it the first time he came back to play. He was reluctant and didn’t wear it again, but he had great success in that game with more than 200 yards receiving and 11 catches.

Q: Were your teammates on the Bills and players around the league just as concerned with concussions then and it just didn’t get as much attention as it does today?

A: We’ve been concerned about concussions for a long time, but one of the reasons it gets more attention is that there are more concussions today. It’s a serious issue and particularly a serious issue at the youth level, and high school and college, when guys aren’t getting paid to play the game. It’s a problem that needs to be solved or at least mitigated if football’s going to continue to have the success it’s had over the years.

One of the reasons there’s more concussions is because they’ve expanded the definition. When I was growing up — and I’ll be 50 this year — when you hit somebody and they saw stars, it was often considered a badge of honor. I just think they felt like the brain can heal like any other part of your body as an injury. I don’t think people thought that those injuries that occurred as a result of a concussion would linger.

Q: Do you consider yourself somewhat of a pioneer and being ahead of your time when it comes to head-related injuries?

A: I was a little bit ahead of my time, but I didn’t come up with the idea. I was the beneficiary of someone’s ingenuity. It’s just a shame that this technology hasn’t been proliferated across the NFL or at the collegiate level. I believe in the technology.

It’s a shame to me that my own kids weren’t the beneficiary of this technology when they played in high school. I have two boys — one that plays college football and the other plays college baseball. It hasn’t been integrated into a full helmet system, and I think that day is coming.

I believe that exterior energy management technology is what’s going to provide the best possible protection versus concussions in contact sports or recreational activities, such as skiing, or construction accidents. The military is another area where they’re trying to mitigate concussive forces as well, which is, in my mind, more serious than athletics. I think the helmet industry is going to change significantly in the next 24 months.

Q: How did you get involved with Guardian Caps?

A: The Hanson Group is a family company that works with material science. I equate them with a BASF (chemical company) because they make products better. They make a golf ball that’s sold at Dick’s. They make chemicals and different things that improve the performance of products.

Our relationship started when we contacted them to see if they wanted to be involved with the “pro cap,” and they decided that they didn’t want to manufacture them. They ran with this idea of a practice cap where one size fits all. It’s easier to engage and disengage and to be used right now during practices because more episodes of concussions happened during practice. Kids have more exposure, and you’re sending them through drills that are intended for contact to teach the kids how to play football correctly. We have a symbiotic relationship with them. Material they use in their Guardian Cap is material that was in part developed with the work we did.

Q: It seems that these days more people than ever believe that the NFL, and football in general, could be in danger of going away in 20 years. Do you think that’s an extreme view or an overreaction?

A: I think that’s a little bit of an extreme view. There was a Time magazine or a New York Times article in the 60s with a picture of a skull with a football helmet on it talking about the silent killer in sports. They talked about football going away then and it didn’t. The NFL believes in the seriousness of it.

email: ericd@beenews.com

Concussion Series

Week 1

— News (Former Buffalo Bills player Mark Kelso and his work with youth football in concussion prevention)

— Sports (Q&A with Kelso about wearing a special helmet during his playing days and the state of concussions in the current NFL)

Week 2

— News (Medical professionals talk about the science of concussions and head-related injuries)

— Sports (Athletic directors and coaches discuss measures they’ve taken to help prevent and treat concussions)

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