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Football: Lighting the path to a safer game

The CheckLight indicator is at the base of the skullcap.

Mike Stotts

The CheckLight indicator is at the base of the skullcap.

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The macho nature of football makes it difficult for fogged and staggering players to take themselves off the field after concussive blows to the head. And even the most vigilant coaches and parents find it difficult to judge the severity of an impact to the helmet. But the Cambridge body-monitor company MC10 and Reebok have invented a skullcap with sensors and LED lights that can be worn under helmets. Called CheckLight, the device flashes yellow for a moderate blow and red for a severe blow. It also keeps a running count of less-severe blows, flashing a warning when the number crosses 100. CheckLight can’t replace the judgment of doctors and trainers, but it could be a crucial alert system — especially in school sports.

Players whose CheckLights show dangerous levels of impact can be ordered off the field with no sense of shame at letting their teams down. And there are signs that the mere wearing of the device may encourage players to avoid head contact, lest they be forced to leave the game. Currently, the device sells for $150, one of the least expensive of several impact sensors and shock-absorbing helmets being developed to identify and prevent potential head traumas. That price tag is quite affordable for the pros and major college programs but burdensome for parents whose kids play in after-school leagues. Hopefully, the cost will come down over time. But even if it doesn’t, schools should cover the cost. This month, hundreds of thousands of kids will start practicing for the fall season — and be at risk of permanent brain damage. They deserve the maximum possible protection.

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