Riddell introduced its Axiom helmet — billed as the most technologically advanced model on the market — about two years ago. Although a lot has been written about it since then (including a deep dive by yours truly), and although it’s now been worn on NFL and NCAA fields for two full seasons, many fans — even uni-savvy ones — are still sometimes caught off-guard by the Axiom’s unusual-looking facemask, which connects at the jawline but doesn’t have a top bar up around the forehead area like standard facemasks do. Just a few weeks ago, Uni Watch reader/commenter Jeff Stark asked me about it, and I fielded a bunch of similar queries throughout this past season.
Fans aren’t the only ones who think the Axiom’s mask looks a bit funky. When I interviewed Thad Ide, Riddell’s executive VP of Research & Product Development, two years ago, he acknowledged that the some players didn’t like the Axiom’s unusual mask design. We had this exchange:
Thad Ide: Then there are the challenges you always face when you introduce something new. For example, we heard some people object that the Axiom doesn’t work with an EG faceguard — that’s the mask with the two uprights on the sides that was made popular 30 years ago by Emmitt Smith and Deion Sanders. It’s still a very popular style.
Uni Watch: Are you saying that some people complained about that just from a cosmetic or aesthetic standpoint? Like, as more of a style thing than a performance thing?
Ide: Yes. It was a comment that we heard over and over again — “I have an EG guard,” or “But I want to wear an EG guard.” I think it’s just what they’re used to seeing when they look in the mirror.
Now it looks like those players may be getting their wish. The Riddell folks are currently attending the American Football Coaches Association convention in Nashville, and on Sunday they posted this announcement:
We are here at @WeAreAFCA and you know we brought brand new face masks for our Riddell Axiom.
Can’t wait to show them to you at Booth 560 👀 pic.twitter.com/sUUQCireYM
— Riddell Sports (@RiddellSports) January 7, 2024
Interesting! Let’s compare the two masks side by side:
The new one would seem to alleviate at least some of the aesthetic concerns about the Axiom’s mask. But it also looks like it cuts down a bit on the Axiom’s field of vision, which was one of the helmet’s selling points.
I wanted to know more, so I emailed Riddell with a few questions, as follows:
- Does the new mask offer better performance and/or safety, or is it mostly a stylistic/aesthetic change?
- Did you find that the original mask design met with a lot of user resistance, because of its unusual look?
- When will the new mask be available for on-field use?
- Will the new mask replace the old one, or will both options be available?
I received the following response from Thad Ide:
As with any new helmet platform, the accessory line tends to be supplemented once field use expands and we receive additional feedback. Axiom was initially launched with five styles of new and unique cast facemasks. The cast construction allows some interesting design possibilities, like non-circular cross-sections, to improve sight lines, which have been well-received for that reason.
The new Axiom-W facemask styles use a more traditional welded wire construction and offer a different aesthetic for players, coaches, and equipment managers who prefer that type of mask. Also of note, the addition of a top wire allows us to offer the popular “EG”-style mask in the Axiom line. During the Fall 2023 playing season, we conducted a successful field test of these mask styles.
Beginning for Spring 2024 football, the new mask styles will be commercially available and then more widely available over the summer as we approach the fall season. We expect the Axiom-W face mask style to supplement the original cast styles with all models available going forward.
Okay, so that basically sounds like a long and convoluted way of saying, “We tried something innovative and different, but some people were scared off by that, so we’ve come up with an option that should appeal a bit more to the traditionalists. You know, casting a wider net.”
Nothing wrong with that. It’ll be interesting to see if this results in more players choosing to wear the Axiom this fall.
(My thanks to Christian Berumen for bringing Riddell’s mask announcement to my attention.)