Do helmets actually make football safer?

Within the past few years there has been a lot of news about the repercussions of injuries to NFL players during their careers.  The main issue being discussed has been specifically concussions and the fact that they seem to cause brain damage later on in life.  To the NFL’s credit, they have taken some steps to heighten safety within the sport.  For example,  earlier this year they outlined new rules for reporting which players listed on an injury report may or may not be playing in any certain game.  Padding and helmets have also gotten better to help protect players as time has gone on.  But are these helmets really helping prevent injuries to players heads?

Image result for football helmet collision

According to the Associated Press, helmets used today in football utilize various soft materials inside a hard shell to lessen the stress on the head dealt by a direct impact.   But is this really helping?  According to this graph by, the number of concussions happening in the NFL has dramatically increased in the last 10 years.  Football helmets have also been undergoing the aforementioned renovations within that time.

While the timeline of the newly designed helmets does correlate with the timing of the dramatic increase of sustained concussions, I believe there may be some confounding variables present.

NFL players are getting bigger, faster, and stronger every year.  This means that tackling is becoming ever more dangerous as each player carries more momentum that could land a devastating hit to a player’s head.  But, as we create better padding to protect players, could we be doing the opposite effect?  By giving more protection, the players are encouraged and more willing to go for those huge hits.  If they had no padding, they would have to be a bit more careful when running into another person.  Maybe it also has to do with the way we inherently think about going about performing a tackle.  Usually it involves lowering your head and slamming into the ball carrier.  Maybe we should be thinking about a safer way of tackling that doesn’t involve the head being so front and center.  Luckily there is a sport that is so very similar to football, but just different enough in padding, tackling, and injury rates that makes a prefect comparison.

Let’s take a look at the sport of Rugby.  It is played similarly to football, but a major difference is that rugby players using very little protective padding when compared to football players.  This means that these players have to be more careful to avoid being seriously injured.  That doesn’t go particularly well.   According to the 2012 Sports Concussion Consensus Conference, the number of concussions per 1,000 players in Rugby was roughly 20 times higher than that of NFL players.  However, rugby coaches have developed a method that seems much more effective for combating concussions than our current helmet technology.  According to, due to the fact that rugby players have so much less padding, they have to improvise their tackling techniques.  Tackling happens so much more frequently in rugby than in football.  So, rugby players have learned to tackle more efficiently as to protect their head more.   In football, players usually slightly lower their head and dive right at the opposing player.  In rugby, players are taught to get their head low, put it behind the opposing player, and mostly use their shoulder to do the majority of the tackle. While the NFL has implemented the penalty of targeting to discourage the use of he head when tackling, the overall mentality of tackling hasn’t changed.  Rugby’s mentality of how to tackle is doing much more for the fight against concussions than the increased “protective” padding is doing for football.

So in conclusion, I believe the main reason for the rampant spread of concussions in the NFL lies not within the construction of the helmets and padding, but rather the whole way we go about tackling.  If we take cues from the cousin known as rugby, we may do more in helping players achieve a less injured mind when they retire.

5 thoughts on “Do helmets actually make football safer?

  1. Anthony Michael Calligaro

    Hi Jordan. I liked this topic a lot as you focused more on whether helmets and pads help to keep football players safe rather than solely talking about concussions in football, like many other blogs. I was just discussing this idea with my friends as we wondered how people played football without helmets before 1943, when the NFL had yet to require players to wear helmets. According to Dr. John York (link below), the chairman of the NFL’s health and safety advisory committee, removing helmets from NFL players would reduce concussions and could be implemented in the future. Although Dr. York claimed his comments were misunderstood a few days later, the idea is out there and being discussed. I doubt it would ever happen because there are more consequences than benefits to banning helmets, but I never would have thought that there could be a negative to wearing helmets in football.

  2. Michael David Kresovich

    I found your post very interesting because I actually wrote a blog post about the NFL and concussions. This post was grealty organized and it made sense. Some of my thoughts are kind of contradicting though, First I think there is more concussions diagnosed now than 10 years ago because we look for them more than we did 10 years ago. Football prior to 2005 did not really think of anything about concussions. I think footbal is a very physical game and the NFL is doing its best job to keep the players safe. Check out the movie concusion, with Will Smith. Great Film.

  3. Brendan Mironov


    As an avid sports fan, I enjoyed reading about your blog. I actually wrote about the impact of concussions and CTE in contact sports during the first blog period. I particularly like your analysis of the third variables associated with the study. I think that the increase in concussions is largely attributed to the amount of knowledge gained about concussions in the past 7 or so years. I think it is possible that there was less concussions in the early 2000s because athletes and doctors may not have known what a concussion was at the time. A number of NFL teams are using tackling “dummies” to teach their players how to tackle effectively without penalties. Additionally, these dummies reduce the head to head contact associated with concussions. Hopefully with the increased knowledge and resources, concussions in pro sports will decline.

  4. Alexander Mark Schaefer

    I’m glad you blogged about this. I agree entirely that footballs way of tackling is the cause of concussions. I play rugby and have played football, not once have I seen someone get a concussion by tackling in rugby. This is because there’s no pads and we are taught to put our heads on the outside hip of our opponent, not drill them with it. Here is a timeline of what the NFL has done to reduce concussions, do you think they can do more than this?

  5. Christopher Ronkainen

    The topic of concussions in football is a very good choice in my opinion. Every week you hear about NFL players injury reports and concussions are very popular amongst the rest. I found it very interesting that you bring up the idea of the players tackling techniques being an issue. I personally agree with you that it plays a major role in the problem, mainly because in youth sports, the technique of tackling was stressed heavily to avoid injury. From personal experience, I have been shown this video of the Seattle Seahawks tackling strategy that they use to limit concussions and other injuries. I think you would find it very fitting with your post.

Leave a Reply