NFL Player Safety: The Case for Banning Helmets and Why It Could Make American Football Safer

Ben LorimerSenior Analyst IIJune 13, 2011

This is a vital disclaimer for every fan about to comment to read the article:

I will be writing another article soon about why banning helmets may not be able to make the game safer. I do not have a strong opinion either way. So to all those who plan on hurling abuse about how I want to ruin their favourite game and make it soft, please steer clear of commenting. However, anyone up for a good debate I will do my best to reply promptly.

Now, to the real article.

For the right or wrong reasons, Roger Goodell and his crew are trying to make the NFL a safer place. This is on the back of many irrefutable studies which have proved that the head to head collisions and other concussions in football can cause serious issues for players later in life.

Many ex-players who tragically died early and donated their brains to medical research were discovered to have brain damage consistent with an 80 year old with dementia at just 50 years of age. It has become plain that improvements have to be made to make football safer.

While there have been many proposals that have been accepted into the league such as moving kickoffs to the 30 yard line and taking a strict line on helmet to helmet collisions, a radical proposal that could kick the problem entirely would be to take away players helmets. This idea has already been proposed by the Wall Street Journal and has a strong argument behind it.

Firstly, taking away helmets would remove the feeling of invulnerability that modern players, especially defenders, carry.

In my opinion, this can only have positive consequences. Defenders would be less reckless going in for tackles and running backs would stop running with their head leading the way. This would do much towards the eradication of concussions and lasting brain damage. Defenders who treat themselves as guided missiles would also curb this tendency, which would limit other miscellaneous injuries not related to the head.

It would also change the tackling technique for defenders, which could be a reason why if this change was implemented it should start with the little leagues and build towards the pinnacle of the NFL.

Instead of being taught to hit with the helmet, defenders would be taught to tackle leading with the shoulder, in the "true" form of tackling. For those of you who feel that this would be dangerous, take a look at rugby games. Very few players are injured in the process of tackling.

Another more sinister issue relates to linemen. On every play, there is a minor helmet to helmet collision. It is an important part of the game, and is entrenched in players techniques. However, these 50 to 60 collisions a game can have an even worse effect on players long term health than one major concussion, and despite how effective helmets become, this damage will continue to occur.

Taking helmets out of the game would make the trenches far safer over the long term.

The perception of the NFL would also improve. While the anything goes attitude does draw some people to the sport, it also repulses many more, especially in my home country of New Zealand and other international markets.

Taking away helmets would create rules around tackling which would ban head high tackles, and would probably make the sport more popular throughout the world. This is a major project that the NFL is undertaking at the moment, and removing helmets would probably help.

A common defense for helmets is that it protects players from other injuries such as landing on their heads after a tackle. However, many injuries such as falls onto their heads or the most common football injury, knee injuries, are not protected by helmets. In fact, players arms and legs would be more protected without helmets. The collisions would be delivered with less force, and this would protect unprotected areas of a footballers anatomy much better.

The final advantage of removing helmets is related to the aesthetic of the game rather than its safety.

Without helmets, removing body pads or the reduction of their bulk would be possible. This would make the game faster because players would be unencumbered by pads. This would add to the spectacle of the game, and allow even more amazing feats of athleticism. From the perspective of the NFL, this is what gets fans into the stadiums and buying team jerseys.

In conclusion, the removal of helmets from the NFL could paradoxically make it a safer place to play.

Defenders would have to stop tackling with their heads, linemen would suffer less head to head knocks a game and players would be faster and more athletic without such bulky pads. It should mean less brain damage for players and less serious injuries as well.