NFL Lab Report: Detroit’s Xenith Makes Top-Rated Football Helmet

The topic of football-related brain injuries has captured national attention as doctors and researchers learn more about the kind of long-term damage sustained by players in the rough-and-tumble sport. There’s even a movie scheduled to hit theaters later this year called “Concussion,” which stars Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu, the real-life forensic neuropathologist who first discovered football-related brain trauma in professional players.

Head injuries that happen on the field can cause severe and lasting damage that we are only just beginning to understand. As a result, equipment manufacturers are scrambling to tweak the designs of their helmets to meet consumer demand for safer products.

One such equipment company, Detroit-based Xenith, announced last week that its EPIC helmet was rated No. 1 during recent lab testing by the National Football League (NFL). The study, done by the NFL in coordination with the NFL players union, was designed to simulate open collisions on the field and was the first of its kind to account for rotational velocity and rotational acceleration in measuring the performance of helmets. (Seventeen helmets were tested by biomechanical experts for the NFL, and though Xenith snagged the top rating, the report stipulates that “within the top-performing group of helmets, there was no statistically significant difference in performance.”)

Xenith, which was founded by a former Harvard quarterback-turned-doctor six years ago, relocated to Detroit from Lowell, MA, last year at the behest of Dan Gilbert, who is one of Xenith’s investors. The company produces helmets at facilities in Southwest Detroit and Sturgis, MI. Xenith will soon make helmets for other sports, including hockey and lacrosse.

According to CEO Joe Esposito, what makes Xenith’s helmets superior is “adaptive head protection.” The bonnet of the company’s helmet has a patented series of shock absorbers that act almost as an airbag to a player’s head. “It minimizes movement of the head during impact,” he says.

Esposito says a number of college and professional players are Xenith customers, perhaps the most famous being LeSean McCoy, the three-time Pro Bowl running back who now plays for the Buffalo Bills. “Eighty or 90 professional players are using our helmets,” Esposito says.

Xenith has about thirty corporate employees across the country, and roughly 100 people working in its Michigan manufacturing facilities. Esposito says the company has grown by approximately 60 percent in the past year, as the EPIC helmet enters its second year on the market.

Esposito says he’s happy Xenith has moved to the Motor City, where, fortunately, the passion of local football fans has not been dampened by (often terrible) team performance.

“It’s a better shipping location, the cost of living is lower, and it’s a better location from a geographic standpoint, because we’re in the center of the country,” he adds. “I love the fact that we’ve created jobs here and are part of Detroit’s comeback story. I’m excited about the future of the company.”

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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