Football is big business. NFL revenues are projected to surpass $13 billion this year--up more than 50 percent from what they were in 2010--and the game's popularity is ever growing. In some sections of the country, college football is king, and in places like Texas, a Friday night football game is a town event.
At the same time, there is mounting concern about the frequency and severity of football-related injuries from youth and high school levels to college and the pros. The NFL Players' Association (NFLPA) pushed for restrictions on player contact during the season, and its new Collective Bargaining Agreement limits teams to only 14 full-padded practices throughout the season. Earlier this year, Ivy League coaches voted unanimously to eliminate full-contact tackling in football practices during the regular season.
So how do teams practice tackling when they can't hit each other?
The answer may come from an Irish entrepreneur who never played American football.
J.P. Hartigan, a 29-year-old former rugby player who was forced into early retirement from the sport due to injuries, came up with the idea of reducing player-to-player contact on the practice field while studying product design and technology at the University of Limerick. Upon conducting a research report on equipment for collision sports, he recognized that injury rates were on the rise in collision sports, yet the on-field practice equipment was lagging behind the times.
Hartigan founded Shadowman Sports, which makes air-filled dummies that have filled the void for full-contact football practices. The Shadowman Pro and Shadowman Jr. are the first moveable and detachable tackling training devices that allow football programs at every level to reduce player-on-player contact. The primary goal is to teach proper tackling techniques while reducing injuries and enhancing player longevity.
The air-filled humanoid has a water-filled base and an optimized low center of gravity for tackling. It moves by being pulled by a small sled to enhance the experience. It is currently being used by some of the biggest names in the sport.
"Shadowman started in September of 2009, while I was studying product design and technology at the University of Limerick. I was looking for problematic areas in sports to design a solution for," explained Hartigan, who at the time was still playing rugby and had sustained injuries in practice.
"As I researched, it became evident the amount of injuries were rising and a majority of those injuries occurred during practice. One the biggest causes was that 'on field contact equipment' had not changed in decades," the entrepreneur explained.
In less than three years, Shadowman boasts 1,500 clients, including four NFL teams (Oakland Raiders, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants), 70 NCAA Division I college programs, and hundreds of high school coaches throughout the country. The company is making a big push into Canada and recently launched its Shadowman Rugby business in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Hartigan plans to continue to focus on the football marketplace by continually introducing new technology and drills that will allow teams to practice without having player-to-player contact
"All collision sports face similar threat/problem," Hartigan says. "We believe we have the solutions and team that can help solve it."