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For months, Raiders receiver Antonio Brown has insisted that he be allowed to wear his favorite helmet, the Schutt AiR Advantage, even though it no longer meets the NFL and NFL Players Association's safety standards.

Why it matters: The Brown saga has brought attention to the world of NFL helmets, where upstart companies like VICIS are disrupting an industry long dominated by major brands like Riddell and Schutt.

The backdrop: The NFL and NFLPA have been testing helmets since 2015, but they agreed for the first time last year to ban certain models from use.

  • As a result, 11 new helmet models were introduced in April (up from 1 the past 2 seasons), and for the third straight year, VICIS' ZERO1 helmet ranked No. 1 in safety testing.

How it works: "Traditional helmets have very rigid outer shells," VICIS founder Dave Marver tells Axios. "They're like cars were back in the 50s and 60s — if you got into a collision, the car wouldn't yield."

  • "By comparison, our helmets have flexible outer shells, so they yield in a collision and slow impact forces more effectively before they can reach the head," Marver adds.
  • By the numbers: NBC Sports impact-tested a Schutt AiR Advantage and a VICIS Zero1 and determined that the brain of a player wearing the Schutt helmet would feel 37.7% more force of impact than it would in the VICIS model.

The big picture: Beyond the NFL, the helmet industry as a whole is undergoing massive change, with startups introducing new technology and tackling safety concerns with a sense of urgency that long-term incumbents — unchallenged for decades — haven't had.

  • Youth football: In the past, most youth football helmets were just adult helmets with lightweight shells. Now, VICIS and others are designing them specifically for kids. They're also making soft cap helmets for the increasingly popular sport of 7-on-7 touch football.
  • Other sports: According to Marver, VICIS will be expanding into 3 more sports over the next 6 to 9 months. And there are rumblings that major structural changes could be coming to hockey helmets, as the NHL deals with its own concussion problem.

The bottom line: "You have Riddell [and Schutt] for football, CCM and Bauer for hockey and Mizuno and Rawlings for baseball. Everyone has stayed in their own lane and, as a result, there's been very little disruption," Nick Esayian, CEO of LIGHT Helmets, tells Axios.

  • That's no longer the case, which is great news for athletes, concerned parents and pretty much everyone on this planet — well, everyone except for Antonio Brown, it would seem.

Go deeper

10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves to be removed after fires

A firefighter looks up at a giant sequoia tree after fire burned through the Sequoia National Forest near California Hot Springs, California, on Sept. 23. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

"Upwards of" 10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves have been "weakened by drought, disease, age, and/or fire" and must be removed in the wake of California's wildfires, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks announced.

Why it matters: The damage to these trees, considered "national treasures," and work to remove them means a nearby key highway must remain closed to visitors as they have "the potential to strike people, cars, other structures, or create barriers to emergency response services," per a statement from the national parks.

Obama stumps for McAuliffe, urges Virginians not "to go back to the chaos"

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama framed a Nov. 2 gubernatorial race as a bellwether for the Democratic Party and the country, telling a crowd at a campaign event for Terry McAuliffe on Saturday that "I believe you, right here in Virginia, are going to show the rest of the country and the world that we're not going to indulge in our worst instincts."

Why it matters: With just over a week to go before Election Day in the Commonwealth, McAuliffe is bringing out the big guns. The 44th president appeared on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University to urge supporters to get to the polls.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Axios AM Deep Dive: America’s murder surge

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

Homicides rose at the fastest rate in at least six decades last year. This Axios AM Deep Dive, led by Future correspondent Bryan Walsh, looks at the state of gun crime.