The League

Michael Kun

Michael Kun

Co-author of The Football Uncyclopedia. He is also the author of six other books and is a practicing attorney.

It's the helmets!


How many people have to jump up and down and scream, "It's the helmets!" before the NFL and the NFLPA start listening?

It's not that the helmets aren't providing enough protection. It's actually the flip side of that issue.

For all you and I know, the helmets might provide the most protection that is technologically and scientifically possible at this time. They might provide as much protection as NASA's space helmets. Let's assume that's the case. But by developing helmets designed to provide more protection, aren't they (designers, the league, etc.) inadvertently creating better weapons? Bigger, harder, tougher weapons.

Look, I'm not a scientist, and you probably aren't either. But we know what we know, and we know what we see.

What do we know? Well, we know this: A tough helmet to help protect the brain also happens to be a tough helmet that can inflict injury.

Players used to play football with thin leather helmets. If you took one of those leather helmets and smacked it against your thigh with some amount of force, it might -- might -- smart a little. If you took one of today's helmet's and smacked it against your thigh with the same amount of force, you're going to get a bruise and perhaps more. Now do the same thing with your head instead of your thigh. Or, better yet, don't. You don't need to smack yourself in the head with a modern football helmet to know it's going to cause more damage to your head than an old leather helmet would.

Yes, that's some pretty unscientific testing right there. It's also accurate. Modern helmets are better weapons than the old ones were. In fact, the old helmets weren't weapons at all. They just offered protection.

But there's more, isn't there? We see more helmet-to-helmet hits now that we did 10 years ago, or 20 years ago, or more. And we see more players carried off the field as a result.

There have been no rule changes that would lead logically to more helmet-to-helmet hits. And no rule changes that would lead to more head injuries as a result. The rules haven't changed, but the psychology of the game has. And part of that psychology is created not just by larger players, but by the tougher equipment they use. Shoulder pads and helmets, ostensibly meant to protect, also cause more damage than their earlier versions, and players know it. They feel safe at the same time they are trying to inflict damage.

By using bigger, tougher helmets to protect the head, players believe themselves to be protected and tackle differently than they used to. I don't need a study on this, and neither do you. We've seen enough games to know that players tackle higher, and they use their helmets as part of it. You know it. I know it. The NFL and the NFLPA know it.

Fining players for dangerous hits is all well and good. But at a certain point in time, fines just become part of the game, too, and players will just build the fines into their contract demands, even if indirectly. Heck, some players might even be bold enough to say, "I got fined $50,000 last year, so I want an extra $50,000 next year."

Fines aren't going to end head injuries, at least not entirely, nor are rule changes. No, the way to reduce the number and seriousness of head injuries is as simple as it is counter-intuitive.

Helmets and pads should provide less protection.

In turn, they will be less dangerous.

If we went back to leather helmets and pads, and got rid of facemasks, we'd have a lot fewer head injuries. More broken noses, but fewer cases of brain damage.

Don't believe that? Take a look at how few head injuries there are in rugby -- a sport every bit as violent as football, but without the "protective" equipment.

And, yes, I put "protective" in quotation marks on purpose.

By Michael Kun  |  December 21, 2010; 11:01 AM ET  | Category:  Concussions , Indianapolis Colts , NFL , Roger Goodell Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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