The Football Helmet Debate
by Gabriella Patino
Football has been a significant part of American culture for more than 100 years. Though the safety of players is put on the line, fans cheer after intense tackles and hard hits. Yet, ever since technology has advanced and we have gained more knowledge about brain injuries, fans have begun questioning the morality of the sport. “Football has taken a lot of hits lately as mounting research shows that the concussions some players suffer boosts their risk for dementia and other brain maladies,” states the Huffington Post.
The NFL has been trying to improve the safety of their helmets for a while now, along with the overall safety of the game. They’ve been teaching their players new tackling techniques as well as improving the helmet. Despite these efforts, injuries are inevitable, even for younger players. Parents of players in elementary and high school are debating letting their children play football. “Participation in Pop Warner youth football leagues dropped 9.5% from 2010 to 2012,” according to a report in 2013 by ESPN.com. The injuries among professional players are trickling down to younger ages. This is beginning to cause parents all over that nation to question their decision. While their children want to pursue the sport they’re passionate about and stay active, parents are forced to consider the long-term dangers of playing the sport. “According to a report by the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research (PDF), deaths in football are “rare but tragic events,” with 17 direct and indirect deaths during the 2013 football season out of approximately 1.1 million high school players,” states fox.com. With all of this growing concern, the sport itself has evolved to accommodate the worry. However, to what extent can the NFL change the rules of the game until it becomes an entirely new sport? The helmet has evolved and improved so much since the beginning of the sport that there isn’t much left to do. The league says, “concussions in regular season games dropped 25% from 2013 to 2014, and concussions caused by helmet-to-helmet hits were down 28% during the same time period, according to a newly released report (PDF).”
For a while, the National Football League took it into their hands to try and improve the safety of the helmet. The number of concussions have slowly been decreasing since then, but what extreme measures can be taken to completely erase that number? The bottom line is that football is a dangerous game to begin with. The nature of the game comes with inevitable injuries.
Some people are wondering if football should even require a helmet. We’ve tried making the helmet more protective, we’ve tried teaching players safer tackling techniques, so maybe the extreme proposal of removing the helmet altogether isn’t that bad of an idea. According to the NFL, “former wide receiver Hines Ward and Patriots safety Nate Ebner said the answer to keeping players from abusing their helmets is do away with helmets. The Boston Globe examined the debate over removing helmets from pro football in order make the game safer.” Perhaps in the absence of helmets, players will be more protective of their heads. Football players often use their helmets to tackle. They charge head first into each other, causing possible brain damage. Helmets were designed to protect the skull, not the brain. Removing the helmet from the game isn’t an irrational idea. Without helmets, players will be forced to tackle with their bodies instead of their heads. Though the possibility of injury will always be there, the numbers would significantly decrease. The question becomes, however, are we willing to risk a greater number of skull fractures for a fewer number of concussions? The NFL has been reluctant to consider this option. Other physical sports that don’t require helmets, such as rugby, report less concussions than the NFL. In Australian football, helmets aren’t part of the game. So why do we need them?
To eliminate the number of brain injuries in football, the helmet should be removed from the game all together. NBC states, “If you want to prevent concussions, take the helmet off: Play old-school football with the leather helmets, no face mask. When you put a helmet on you’re going to use it as a weapon, just like you use shoulder pads as a weapon.” This dramatic change to the game can benefit players for decades to come. As long as football is a prominent part of American culture, the country should advocate for a safer game.