WTAE-TV (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
May 23, 2023
Gone are the days of boil-and-bite mouthguards.
It may be one of the smallest pieces of equipment a football player wears, but in this case, it’s also the most important.”Player safety is the number one impact in football. We hear it everywhere, every day, about player safety,” says Chris Hanks, head football athletic trainer at the University of Pittsburgh.Last year, the NFL reached out to the Pitt football program and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to be a part of their ground-breaking research study surrounding on-field head impacts, making the school one of just eight universities across the country to participate in the program alongside schools like Alabama, Wisconsin and Georgia.”I think it shows … we’re one of the top football programs in the country,” Hanks said. “We’re one of the top Power Five programs to be considered for this. Couple that with the respect and admiration that everybody has for UPMC concussion lab and research — it was a win-win.”The study centers around a custom-fit mouthpiece that these players wear. There’s actually a circuit built into it, and although it’s thicker than an average mouth guard, a lot of the guys that opted into the program say it’s pretty comfortable. They even wear it during games. Right now, Pitt has about 35 players that have opted in.Hanks said, “When we started this, they wanted skill players. The first phase was offensive and defensive lineman. They wanted to look at different data from different players. So that’s who’s predominantly in it with us.”
They’ll wear the mouthguards throughout the fall, during every game and every practice. Hanks says that, after practice, researchers collect the mouthpieces and take them to the concussion lab.
Dr. Anthony Kontos with UPMC’s Sports Medicine Concussion Program said, “The accelerometers are embedded in the mouth guard. This gives us a closer measure to where the brain is with effects to these impacts.”Kontos is the one leading the program here in Pittsburgh. When it comes to this study — he said it’s not solely focused on concussions.”It’s really important for us to increase our understanding. We want to know better, Do they differ versus regular season?” Kontos said.While the final results of the study are quite a ways away, the end goal of the partnership between Pitt, UPMC, and the NFL remains clear: Make football a safer sport.”We all love football. We want football to continue at the University of Pittsburgh,” Hanks said.””What we’re really trying to do here is really evidence and science-based,” Kontos said.”We don’t have all the answers with concussion right now,” Hanks added. “We’re trying to get there, and as a medical community, we’re going to keep trying as hard as we can.”