Lately the subject of concussions in the NFL and other football (college, high school, etc) has become a hot topic of discussion. One proposed change is that the problem isn’t that the helmet needs to be improved rather it needs to be eliminated entirely. This they argue would stop players from using their helmet as a weapon and work to protect themselves more.
Removing helmets from the game without completely revamping the game would be folly. Continued improvements to helmets, enhanced concussion protocols, and changing the rules to penalize dangerous behavior is the best path forward.
A new helmet design that allows players to hit heads every play with no damage, AND absorb the sorts of collisions that you see on say… kickoff returns without brain damage, concussion or skull fracture, may be a rather quixotic attempt without some kind of serious advancement in technology.
The thing with CTE is that it’s not JUST concussions. It’s the gradual accumulation of sub-concussive hits over time that causes the disease. For example, every time a offensive or defensive lineman buts heads with a guy across the line of scrimmage, he’s doing himself a tiny bit of brain damage. This builds up over the course of years and years, and you end up with a Mike Webster.
That’s not to say that Troy Aikman is in the clear with 7 concussions, but rather that Mark Stepnoski (his center) is likely at as much or more risk for CTE due to the thousands of sub-concussive hits he surely sustained as an offensive lineman.
I think that going to the leather helmets and no face masks would prevent players from leading with their heads, as they’d stand a real chance of messing their faces up if they did. They’d have to arm-tackle more like rugby players, but all in all, the game would just be less violent in a particular way. We’d still have running plays, we’d still have passing plays, we’d still have tackles, but we probably wouldn’t have linemen butting heads like they do now, and linebackers might not lead with their heads.
We should get rid of helmets like we should put a big metal spike in the center of the steering wheel of every car. Some people think making things more dangerous actually makes things safer – I disagree.
Football has changed a lot now and there’s no going back. I think we can continue to up the penalties for helmet-to-helmet contact and the like, or we can basically stop playing football.
I don’t think they can just get rid of helmets, but I would like to see what would happen if they changed the helmet design (not necessarily leather, but something with a smaller profile and/or replacing the facemask with a clear hockey-style visor) and changing the shoulder pads to something smaller and softer.
As bump says, while the big concussion-causing hits get all the attention, it’s starting to look more and more like the minimal hits that linemen and running backs/linebackers suffer on every play are the real culprit for long-term damage. It probably suits the NFL to focus on the former and downplay the latter since they can be seen as doing something for the former (by adding penalties and suspending players) whereas the latter is, right now, an unavoidable part of the sport.
This is as dumb as the argument that if batters didn’t wear batting helmets, they would be less likely to get hit in the head with pitches; and if hockey players wore helmets, other players would keep their sticks down.
AND, even if all that WAS true, which it isn’t, can you imagine the legal liability the NFL would put itself in the first time an unhelmeted player got a severe head injury?
Rugby is a rugged sport, and no loss of respect for the toughness of their players, but compared to American football it is with more body tackling with players running in the same direction than the direct head to head collisions in football. I would suggest if ALL ruggers wore helmets, the concussion rate would go from much lower to extremely lower.