NFL reveals '1st and Future' safety innovation winners

MINNEAPOLIS -- The NFL's effort to make football safer continued on Saturday before Super Bowl LII at the league's third annual "1st and Future" event at the Guthrie Theater.

The NFL teamed with Comcast NBCUniversal and the Mayo Clinic to produce a live pitch competition between nine startup companies offering innovations and game-changing technologies.

"Innovation and what we can do to protect our players is obviously a huge priority for us," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said during a panel discussion at the event. "I think we'd like to advance technology in a lot of areas of our business, including the media business, with our partners, and there is no bigger stage to bring everyone together and convene everyone than the Super Bowl."

Goodell was joined by Chairman of NBC Broadcasting & Sports Mark Lazarus, Mayo Clinic President and CEO John H. Noseworthy, M.D. and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in a discussion about player safety.

Wilson brought a VICIS helmet to the event that helps reduce hit impact. The Seahawks QB said the efforts to make the game safer could hopefully help lead to prolonged careers.

"To think about my career, I'm six years in and hope I've got another 15 more to go. You guys laugh, I'm not," he said slightly chuckling. "I feel like I haven't started. But this is a big part of it, this helmet. Obviously everybody in here knows about the severity of concussions and the reality of that in the National Football League..."

Wilson said the NFL's willingness to put money toward innovation -- the VICIS helmet was aided by the league's Head Health Initiative -- can make football safer for the next generation.

"It actually doesn't stop with football, we're actually doing a lot with other sports as well," he said. "And the even cooler part is we're going to be doing stuff with the military potentially. That's high-level information so I can't say too much."

Goodell reiterated that events like "1st and Future" display the league's willingness to search for ways to make sports safer.

"Our number one priority is player health and safety," Goodell said. "And Russell is one of the most active players, not in just health and safety, but also in every aspect of our business. We talk all the time about different ideas that he has on the business. That makes us better. We appreciate that. These guys are on the field, they give us a perspective, they give these technologies an opportunity to be put on the biggest stage. And all of that is our number one priority, to make this game safer for those players. We've invested over $200 million. We are the largest research funder for concussion research. ... And I think that's because we believe we are in a leadership position. We have to do that for our players, but also to a point Russell made, we share that data. We share that with every level of football, we share it with every sport, we share it with our military because all of this is about learning. All of this is about getting a better understanding of the brain, traumatic injuries, and frankly all injuries. This is not exclusive to concussions, this is really about injuries to every part of the body. And we can all learn together and make every sport, frankly life, better for everybody."

On Saturday, the NFL and its partners awarded $50,000 prizes and Super Bowl tickets to three winners in the categories of Advancements in Protective Equipment, New Therapies to Speed Recovery, and Technology to Improve Athletic Performance, in a "Shark Tank" style pitch contest.

This year's winners:

Advancements in Protective Equipment: Impressio, Inc., which utilizes liquid-crystal elastomers (LCEs) to design equipment that can help absorb energy from hits. The group hopes it can one day replace the foam padding in helmets with their product.

New Therapies to Speed Recovery: RecoverX, which designed a hot-cold therapy device that allows athletes to better control their recovery. The current model on display Saturday specifically targeted knee physical therapy.

Technology to Improve Athletic Performance: Curv.ai, which developed an augmented reality application that utilizes the camera on any mobile device to capture human motion, measure athletic ability, and evaluate injury risk.