Players today wear their helmets much looser than in the past. That was the sentiment expressed by former NFL quarterback and current CBS broadcaster Phil Simms during the Denver Broncos vs. Carolina Panthers game on November 11th when one of the players' helmets went flying through the air.
There is precious little information about the fitment of NFL players' helmets on the web—at least, that I've been able to find—but one only needs to understand how a helmet is supposed to fit and then watch a player removing his helmet or putting it on to see that most of these guys are wearing helmets that are much too big for their heads.
As a responsible motorcyclist, I understand how a helmet is supposed to fit. While the construction of motorcycle helmets is markedly different from that of football helmets, the same rules of fitment apply.
Here is a video explaining the difference between a properly fitted motorcycle helmet and one that is too loose.
Notice how the presenter mentioned that a properly fitted helmet should give the wearer "a little bit of difficulty" in pulling it down. Now watch the sidelines during any NFL (or college, for that matter) football game and see how easily the majority of the players' helmets go on and off. If you want to address the health and safety of football players, start here.
The NFL has made a great show of changing existing rules and creating new ones in an effort to increase player safety—that, or to protect their wallets from lawsuits filed by ex-players contending that the league withheld knowledge of the long-term effects of head injuries. But that's a subject for another article.
The problem is that they are attempting to make a violent contact sport into something else, something less easily subjected to potentially ruinous litigation. Football has always been violent, and if it is to stay true to its nature, it always will be. If you try to turn it into something else, you will get a product so watered-down by the delicate sensibilities of a neurotic league hierarchy that it would be unpalatable.
If I'm the NFL, I embrace the violence while at the same time doing everything I can to protect the players as much as possible and insulating myself from litigation brought by injured players once their careers are over.
If the NFL is upfront about any and all potential health risks associated with playing professional football and they can prove they have done all that could be reasonably expected of them to protect their players, any legal action against them based on injuries sustained would not stand on firm ground.
In addition to the rule changes, they are throwing piles of money at the problem in an effort to exhibit their earnest sincerity. Here is a quote from the league: "NFL dedicates more than $100 million over the next decade to medical research with the vast majority going to concussion-related research."
Concussion-related research is all well and good, but if they don't institute some kind of regulation regarding players wearing helmets that fit their heads, they are wasting their money. You could have the safest, most technologically advanced helmet the world has ever seen, but if they guy wearing it is wearing the wrong size, he might as well be wearing one of those leather head-condoms from the 1940s.
One idea: Have every player get their head measured when they first enter the league and then force that player to wear a helmet that fits his particular head size for the rest of his career. Every practice, every game.
Peyton Manning is one of the few players I've seen who wears a properly fitted helmet. Have you ever noticed Peyton Manning come to the sideline and take his helmet off? Have you then seen the big red mark on his forehead? Everyone should have one of those.
That is not to say that helmets need to be uncomfortable. They don't. Anyone telling you that they have to wear a looser helmet because a tighter one is uncomfortable is full of it. It's an excuse, like motorcyclists saying they don't wear helmets because it cuts off their peripheral vision—pure B.S. Take it from someone who knows.
The players who knowingly wear helmets that are too loose do so (I think) because they simply don't understand the ineffectiveness of an ill-fitted helmet—the danger to which they are exposing themselves.
There is another, more cynical theory which states that these players intentionally wear looser helmets so that when their helmets come off during a game they get their faces on T.V. While I'm not naive enough to completely dismiss this possibility, I'd like to think that if it is true, it is true for only a few.
Whatever their reasons, they need to be educated.
The NFL instituted its new player safety rules in 2010, a year that saw 159 head injuries during the regular season. In 2011, there were 162. The 2012 season, despite only being 11 weeks old, has already seen at least one concussed player from every team—the first time in the history of the league that every single team has registered a regular season concussion. The rule changes are not working.
At least, not by themselves. If the NFL combines the new rules, further research into head injuries and appropriate protocol for dealing with concussed players with a regulation that forces players to wear an appropriately sized helmet, I have no doubt they will see the number of concussions reduced dramatically.