Zoltan Mesko on Football, Concussions, and his Path to Entrepreneurship

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My path to professional football started in the unlikely form of a botched kickball play. I was in eighth grade, having moved to the United States from Romania just three years before. Determined to prove myself with a home run into the bleachers, I approached home plate with determination and focus. So you can imagine my dismay when I popped the ball up and smashed a gymnasium light.

As the class ran from the falling sparks and shards of glass, my Phys Ed teacher Mr. Springer approached me with an ultimatum. Either pay for the light, or kick for the high school team next year. After calculating that a new light would cost almost a year of my $10 weekly allowance, I made the choice to pursue football. I could never have imagined what opportunities that broken light would lead me to.

Football, the ultimate team game, has been a great teacher in my life. The sport’s accelerated feedback loop of triumphs and failures instill in its players a great deal of work ethic, discipline, collaboration, and an ability to overcome hardship. Perhaps most importantly, football taught me the power and camaraderie of a team working towards a common goal. These lessons have had an undeniable impact on most facets of my life.

With that said, football is a grind. Between hours spent at practice, the exhausting travel schedule, and a revolving door of injuries, football players often push their bodies and minds to the limit. Most recently, the football community has become acutely aware of the long term effects of concussions and sub-concussive impacts. These findings have left many to wonder what the future of the sport will be if we can’t find a solution.

Although I’ve been lucky in avoiding most major hits as a punter (a position that required more acting than hitting when someone got close to me), a scary play during the 2010 Senior Bowl opened my eyes to the trauma of concussions. Chasing the punt returner down the sideline, I was knocked to the ground by a hard hit. For a full two seconds, my vision went completely dark. As I came to, I couldn’t even feel the discomfort the wind and rain had created on that 34-degree day. I woke up the next morning to a terrible headache that persisted for the better part of a week.

Soon after, I was drafted by the New England Patriots. It was during my time in the NFL that I came to realize the truly debilitating effects of head impacts on longtime athletes. One of my teammates could not be in a bright room for several weeks due to his sensitivity to light. Others suffered month-long headaches, nausea, balance troubles, and more.

While these were adults who had chosen to pursue football professionally, I couldn’t help but think back to my high school teammates who had suffered similar symptoms. How could a high school kid focus in a classroom if he has a persistent headache or can’t stand the light? As a new father who hopes to see my child play sports someday, it has been impossible to shake this worry about the potential risks.

I was inspired by my firsthand experience with concussions to look for a solution – something that could make a measurable difference in this sport and quickly. Football is a great teacher, and I want to do my part in mitigating the harmful costs increasingly associated with the sport.

I first conceived of an impact-reduction device in 2014. From my rudimentary knowledge of physics, I know that if a person in motion is given a longer time or distance to stop, the more comfortable the event will be as the person experiences lower deceleration.

I approached my now co-founder Ben to pitch him my idea: I wanted to design an attachment for football helmets that would spread the impact of a hit over space and time, reducing the force experienced by the player’s head. Ben liked the idea, so we ran with it. We’ve made enormous progress in the last two years, and are now working on perfecting the technology so we can make it available to football players everywhere.

I cannot stress enough how passionate I am about the game of football, as it has molded me into the individual I am today. If I can do anything to make kids more safe and keep playing this sport I love so much, I’m going to do it. I look forward to sharing more as we continue to make progress, and hope that you will join me and my team in our journey.

Please CONTACT US with any questions or if you’d like to receive updates as engineering progresses.

Zoltan Mesko is a co-founder of Impact Labs and founder of the Zoltan Mesko Foundation, a 501(c)(3) benefitting patients at Boston Children’s Hospital and C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, MI. After 4 seasons in the NFL, Zoltan invented Impact Labs' first prototype with the goal of making football safer for future generations of athletes. Zoltan holds a BBA in Finance and Marketing from the University of Michigan and an MA in Sport Management from the University of Michigan.