FanDuel - WFBC

November 11, 2009

Is It Time to Retire the Football Helmet?: A story in today's Wall Street Journal asks whether the football helmet is the cause of more head injuries than it prevents. "Some people have advocated for years to take the helmet off, take the face mask off," said Fred Mueller of the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research. "Maybe that's better than brain damage." The protective headgear, introduced in the '40s, has created a sport in which players lead with their head in tackles and other collisions. Head injuries are 25 percent more likely to occur in the NFL than in Australian football, a "similarly rough" game that never adopted helmets and other protective gear.

posted by rcade to football at 10:18 AM - 22 comments

I heard a player say something along these lines not too long ago. He said that if we are serious about reducing the amount of head injuries, they should get rid of the facemasks. Makes sense in a counterintuitive way.

posted by NoMich at 10:48 AM on November 11

When I played HS football (in the early 50s) there were no face masks and the helmets were no where near the quality of today's, even at the Pop Warner level. I don't recall the number of head injuries as even being relevant at that time. Maybe it is time to "turn the clock back" and do away with the face masks. We did have the broken noses and jaws which in my view are much less servere to a person's well being than concussions.

posted by wildbill1 at 11:00 AM on November 11

The thing that would worry me would be the head hitting the field surface. The players are so much more athletic now. When they go airborne, they can't keep their head from hitting the deck when they land hard.

Wish Bill Walsh were still around. I bet he'd love to have a chance to coach a helmet-free version of football. And no doubt he'd develop the best techniques and strategies for it.

posted by beaverboard at 11:59 AM on November 11

Imagine the transition period; people who have been trained to lead with their heads would still lead with their heads. You can't just undo years of training with a rule change. It'd be a devastating period in football.

posted by dfleming at 12:08 PM on November 11

I kindof agree. In fact I use this point when arguing with others who say that rugby players are tougher than football players (because they don't wear pads).

In my mind, if you take away the helmet, the violence goes down to the level it was back in sandlot football when we were younger. Sure there will still be crazy head-to-head crashes or bloody faces or the occasional lunatic who will still run full-speed headlong into a pile of players....but for the most part self-preservation will kick in and you won't have the equivalent of 30mph crashes on every single play like you do today.

dfleming - I don't think it will be any "un-learning" needed...in fact, all it would take is a single head-to-head crash without a facemask to learn you won't be doing that again. Dogs, young and old, only jump out of the back of a truck one time before they learn to never do that again.

posted by bdaddy at 12:45 PM on November 11

It would be interesting to see people revive football the way it was played before helmets and huge pads, the way that some old-school baseball is being played up in the northeast. It's not like the lack of pads removes physicality from a sport. I saw the Leeds Rhinos rugby team playing an exhibition in Jacksonville a few years ago, and those dudes delivered some tough shots.

posted by rcade at 01:14 PM on November 11

So:

With helmets=more concussions Without helmets=less concussions

What a crazy, mixed up world it is. Can we still wear the redesigned Evel Kneivel Easy Rider Captain America helmet if we want?

I mean, just for fun?

posted by THX-1138 at 01:36 PM on November 11

I don't think it will be any "un-learning" needed...in fact, all it would take is a single head-to-head crash without a facemask to learn you won't be doing that again. Dogs, young and old, only jump out of the back of a truck one time before they learn to never do that again.

While you may be right that players will only need to make one hit to learn, that first hard, unprotected-head hit could be a career-ender.

posted by bender at 01:53 PM on November 11

I like football the way it is now. It has evolved and that is why the game is as popular as it is. I once had a discussion with a guy who said rugby and Australian rules football players were tougher than American football players because they did not get to wear pads. I tried to explain that the equipment was just as much of a weapon as it was protection, but he just wouldn't believe me.

Frankly I am getting tired of congress, and do gooders trying to fix something that does not need fixing. I am all for the league protecting players, but if you think football is too violent, don't watch it and don't play it. No activity is perfectly safe. More people die in bath tubs, or five gallon water buckets. Baseball should go to nerf balls and plastic bats, auto racing should have a top allowed speed of 20 mph, trees in ski resorts should be replaced with big pillows, and rock climbing should be outlawed.

Maybe we should just accept that life is dangerous and the best thing anybody can do is weigh the risks and rewards of the activities we participate in and make informed decisions about what risks we are and are not willing to take. I have to assume all football players are aware that you can get hurt playing football and choose to play anyway.

We have a congress that is busy looking into how to minimize concussions to multi millionaire football players in the NFL but continues to allow the sale of cigarettes which kill over 500,000 people in the USA every year. I think our priorities are a little screwed up. Maybe we should just try to figure out how to screen radical muslim fanatics out of our military so they don't shoot people and spend less time worrying about someone bumping their head in a football game. A perfect example of political correctness gone crazy.

Maybe we should spend some tax dollars on signs for every bridge that say " base jumping is very dangerous, should you choose to jump please note your relatives will be held responsible to shovel up your remains and remove them from the area. Have a nice time"

I guess the NHL made a mistake requiring players to wear helmets.

posted by Atheist at 02:00 PM on November 11

So they imply it's potentially more dangerous wearing a helmet, but don't give any supporting data of how many injuries the helmet prevents on any given Sunday. Great journalism.

Taking away helmets might have other benefits for the sport. It would bring down the cost of equipment, which can be crippling for some schools. A slower game might also be more palatable to some parents. And with their heads uncovered, football players might be more attractive to endorsers.

So someone actually wrote that paragraph, not as a joke, and an editor at the WSJ says, " ... good point. Print it." Jesus. Just Canx'd my subscription.

posted by smithnyiu at 02:21 PM on November 11

Taking away helmets might have other benefits for the sport. It would bring down the cost of equipment, which can be crippling for some schools.

Yeh, and how much would their insurance premiums be?

posted by graymatters at 02:48 PM on November 11

I like football the way it is now.

How often are you getting hit on the average Sunday?

So they imply it's potentially more dangerous wearing a helmet, but don't give any supporting data of how many injuries the helmet prevents

How would they get such data? I think the hypothesis is a fair one, like the economist's idea of a car safety improvement: put a large steel spike on the steering wheel. People would drive much more carefully if the penalty for a mistake were more expensive.

posted by yerfatma at 03:19 PM on November 11

So they imply it's potentially more dangerous wearing a helmet, but don't give any supporting data of how many injuries the helmet prevents

How would they get such data?

They used the data from Australian Rules for the control as those players do not use helmets and compared the number of head injuries those players experience per game vs. NFL. The NFL players with helmets on experienced 25% more head injuries than the AR players without helmets on. If you've ever watch AR football, you have to respect those guys, no pads or helmet and hitting/getting hit just as hard. If you've never watched one and think American FB is rough as it gets, try to find a game on TV this weekend. I can't figure out the points system, but the gameplay is fantastic.

I think the removal of the helmet would cut down on quarterbacks being blindsided (and hence the associated injuries) a lot since they wouldn't have the helmet blocking their peripheral (sp?) vision.

posted by stalnakerz at 03:35 PM on November 11

"How often are you getting hit on the average Sunday?"

Brilliant comment. What does that have to do with anything? Let me reiterate, every thing has a risk and as adults I will assume anybody who loves football enough to make it to the NFL not only loves to play football, but is comfortable with the risks and rewards of the career they have chosen.

The NFL has an incredibly strong players union. If the players wanted to outlaw helmets, they would. I am wondering why everybody seems so concerned with protecting NFL players when of all the occupations I can think of, they have some of the best pay, benefits, and a player run union to fight for the rights and goals of their membership.

posted by Atheist at 04:06 PM on November 11

I hate when people try to compare Aussie Rules anf NFL for any reason. The rules and patterns for contact are completely different. Aussie Rules forbids tackling in the back and below the waist. Aussie Rules players are scattered all over a 180 yd. long field; NFL lines up 10-15 players in a 5 yd by 20 yd strip and lets them run straight at each other. A QB will run maybe 80 yds in a normal game, lugging around all those pads isn't a great chore; Aussie Rules midfielders will cover over 10 miles in a normal game and you would have more chance getting a marathoner to carry a Camelbak and a packed lunch than to get them to wear a hard-shell helmet.

Aussie Rules players do not get hit anything like NFL players. The biggest player on the Sydney Swans roster is 6'4", 230 lbs; average is around 6' and 190 lb, smallish WR/CB size. Decent but they ain't going to hurt like Jared Allen coming past a blown block. You can't even really compare rugby and NFL, it is so much more important to trap in the ball and allow time for your teammates to get to the tackle in rugby and a 1 yard difference where the ball eventually stops rarely matters.

Compare NFL to hockey if you want similar levels of impact.

posted by deflated at 04:19 PM on November 11

The NFL has an incredibly strong players union.

I think we can stop taking you seriously on this one.

If you've ever watch AR football, you have to respect those guys, no pads or helmet and hitting/getting hit just as hard.

That's what I mean, is it possible to quantify such a thing? I've watched very little AR, but are there 270lb guys who run a 4.7 40? Are there the equivalent of a NFL nose tackle, 330+ pounders?

On Preview: apparently not.

posted by yerfatma at 04:21 PM on November 11

How would they get such data?

Pretty simple. Make everyone play one Sunday without helmets. Every head injury counts as 1. Add the hundreds of injurys together, there's your data.

posted by smithnyiu at 04:29 PM on November 11

I think this idea probably warrants examination that it will never receive. I can't see anywhere close to enough consensus being built amongst the deciders to even get this tabled. It's hard to take things away, much easier to add.

For what it's worth, hockey has a similar problem. The shoulder and elbow pads went from protection to weapon more than a decade ago.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 05:57 PM on November 11

Better proposal: ban hard-shell pads and helmets, stop the pads from contributing to the problem. Rugby League went through this in Australia in the 80's, some teams/players were starting to use rigid shoulder pads as a way to hurt the other team (Warren Ryan's Canterbury teams started the trend from memory). Restrictions were brought in on the composition of protective gear, injuries went down.

Like others have said, pads are now a weapon.

posted by deflated at 07:15 PM on November 11

The shoulder and elbow pads went from protection to weapon more than a decade ago.

I work in a large sporting goods store here in Montana. Each year, I am more and more surprised by the level of what seems to be bulletproof hockey armor we receive. Weedy is right. Pads are becoming weapons. Not protection.

posted by BoKnows at 07:21 PM on November 11

I am wondering why everybody seems so concerned with protecting NFL players when of all the occupations I can think of, they have some of the best pay, benefits, and a player run union to fight for the rights and goals of their membership.

Well, they get hit in the head a lot, so...

posted by dirigibleman at 07:23 PM on November 11

There's no real comparison with AFL. As others have pointed out, in AFL you can only tackle above the knees and below the armpits, and can only hold someone from behind. As well, if someone puts their head down, surrounding players are allowed to kick the ball. The rules are designed to protect the person who is going for possession, and to try and ensure no-one gets blindsided (although that does still happen).

From what I can see of NFL, a better comparison would be with the two rugby codes. Players are bigger (especially in Union), and collisions are part of the game. As was pointed out, rugby has banned the use of hardened protective armour, as it was the cause of more injuries than any it might have prevented. In recent years there has also been a severe crackdown on head high tackling (which was never legal at any time). It's still an incredibly tough game, but players know they will be protected as much as possible by the laws.

It would be interesting to see a concussion per minutes played comparison for professional teams from the rugby codes and NFL.

posted by owlhouse at 12:52 AM on November 12

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