Erin Hanson’s (B.S. ’86) protective football helmet cover is changing the game
Erin Hanson is in the protection business. The mother of five and her husband, Lee, own The Hanson Group, a technology and material sciences company that has developed a range of protective products, including transparent armor for U.S. military vehicles, for example.
Several years ago, the company worked with a football helmet manufacturer to create a soft-shelled, protective helmet aimed at reducing concussions.
Hanson says they took it to the National Football League’s concussion symposium.
“They told us that it would change the sound of the game,” she said, referring to the audible pops that come when a player hits another player. “And that would be bad for business.”
After that, Hanson says the company never took the product to market. A few years later, when the Hanson’s son, James, was ready to start playing football, Hanson was concerned for his safety. She knows a lineman in high school takes between 1,100 and 1,500 hits in a season. She knows American youth football players are treated for more than 8,500 concussions a year.
“Knowing what we know,” Hanson said, “we had to do something. We knew we could make a difference.”
The Hansons went back to the lab and worked to enhance the existing helmet design. They came back with a one-size-fits-all, seven-ounce padded helmet cover that snaps onto the facemask of any football helmet. They called it the Guardian Cap. Tests showed that the product absorbs up to 33 percent of the impact of a hit.
Hanson took the lead on marketing the Guardian Cap.
“It’s important for me,” she said. “It’s a passion business. It was created from a passion for kids, a knowledge in material sciences and science behind impact reduction.”
Little by little — and as the debate over concussions grew — the Guardian Cap began to appear on football practice fields across the country.
In a cruel twist of fate, in 2012 as Hanson was tirelessly working to protect the brains of youth football players, the couple’s daughter, Alex (B.B.A. ‘12), then a senior accounting major at Georgia State, was diagnosed with brain cancer.
She is happy to report that Alex has since made a full recovery, graduated with her accounting degree and now works for the family business.
Alex’s illness galvanized the family — they give 5 percent of company profits to brain research — as well as their efforts promoting the Guardian Cap. Today, Hanson says, more than 20,000 caps are worn by youth leagues to Division I college teams, including the University of South Carolina and Clemson University. While the Guardian Cap is almost exclusively worn during practices only there are a few schools that use the Guardian Cap in games. Huntington Beach High School in Huntington Beach, Calif., wore the caps during games all season and won the California Interscholastic Federation Southwest Division championship.
“Changing a sport as ingrained in American culture as football takes time and many aren’t willing for the game to look different,” Hanson said.
The caps are also being used in lacrosse, she said.
“Nothing can prevent concussions completely,” Hanson said. “All we can do is reduce the impact and hope that translates into a safer game. It will take technique, education and equipment changes going forward with a commitment to do all we can to make the game safer for players.”