Football has slowly surpassed baseball as America’s pastime. The high powered, violent, and exciting sport has pushed its way into the national spotlight and many players find themselves some of the biggest celebrities this country has to offer. The high scores, hard hits, and amazing fans seem to make football a perfect sport, or is it? There appears to be one glaring issue in the NFL. Safety. More and more players are starting to get concussions and even more former players are coming forward with lasting effects from these injuries. There were 199 NFL concussions in the 2015 season according to Frontline’s Concussion Watch. One of the NFL’s main plans of attack on the concussion epidemic is to try and improve the effectiveness of helmets against head injuries. My question is: would NFL players actually be better off without helmets?
Taking helmets off may seem counter-intuitive but it makes more sense than you would think. For one, helmets make players feel invincible. A player tends to hit more with his head and initiate contact that would other wise seem unsafe without a helmet. Removing the helmet would make players more conscious about using their head to hit others and hitting others heads. This is best exemplified in the sport of rugby. Rugby is arguably just as physical of a sport as football, with minimal padding and no helmet. Most Rugby players do not lead tackles with their head because they do not have this false sense of security that most football players do. One would hope that this false sense of security would be offset by the safety that helmets bring to players. The main goal of helmet’s are to reduce the violent crashing that occurs in a football tackle. The foam in a helmet is there to control the crash and hopefully lessen the strain on the nerves of the brain (helmets.org). The goal is to reduce rotational force placed on the brain, but a study presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 66th annual meeting suggests that modern helmets are not actually reducing this rotational force placed on the brain. The study used crash dummies and placed 12 mph impacts on the heads of the dummies. They tested 10 different helmets to see if they reduced any of this rotational force placed on the brain. The study showed that helmets only reduced the risk of brain injury by 20 percent compared to not wearing a helmet (American Academy of Neurology). This is no where near the safety players think they are receiving from these helmets. So the question becomes, would players not wearing helmets reduce these traumatic brain injuries? One study at the University of New Hampshire showed that implementing regular helmet-less drills decreased the number of head impacts among those in the study by 28 percent. This just shows that taking helmets off of players would make them think twice about colliding head to head with another player but it may not change the style of play quickly enough which could create an incredibly dangerous atmosphere. The slamming of heads into the ground would also become very dangerous. Also the whole game of football would have to be changed. Players would have to line up in the upright position, something that would not be easily adopted in the NFL. Maybe taking off the helmet completely is not the right answer, but it is interesting that it is even a discussion. Helmets are looked at as the only thing keeping players from concussions when in reality they may be doing more harm than good.