What is Risk Compensation?
Imagine a player in the NFL and running down the field to score a touchdown. Out of no where he is hit extremely hard and he goes down. He has no idea where he is or who he is. All he knows is that his head is pounding, this is what it feels like to receive a concussion and it happened far too often in the NFL. People are proposing to make drastic changes or just banning the game. There however, is a way that we can prevent concussions without drastically changing the game, get rid of helmets.
When Walter Camp changed the rules from Rugby into American football he did not want players to become seriously injured. The violent nature comes from the players, they don’t have to make an enormous hit, but they do anyway. These enormous hits, they cause injuries. Why do they do this, a concept called risk compensation. Protective equipment, like helmets and pads, may prompt users to act more aggressively and thereby increase the potential for serious injury. Im sure when a football player is on the field with no helmet he is not going to make a risky play, but give him a helmet and he will make that play knowing he is suppose to be protected. In Hagel and Meeuwisse’s article, they talk about how before helmet use, there were less concussions. During football practices, many teams practice a drill called the tackling drill. During this drill, 2 players line up and hit one another as hard as they can. In the 1940’s, when there were no helmets, players were taught the initial point of contact should be the shoulder. In the 1960’s when todays helmets made their first appearance, players were taught that the initial point of contact was the head due to it being protected. There was a noted increase in tackling drill fatalities between 1955 to 1964 compared to between 1945 to 1955 when the point of contact was the shoulder. The players in the 1940s and early 1950s had no helmets, but this time period had a significantly less number of tackling drill fatalities than when helmets were invented. They were “spearing,” a term that describes when a player runs head first into the person they are trying to tackle. They are acting like a ram does when it go to hit an opponent. When spearing was banned in 1976, there was a significant decrease in the amount of head injuries, cervical spine injuries, and deaths, even with an increase in participation.
Risk compensation is also found in other sports such as, baseball, hockey, skiing, snowboarding, and bicycling. Risk compensation is even found in rugby. For example, in children’s baseball using softcore balls, volunteer coaches were seeing more instances of injuries than leagues that used hardcore baseballs. The children took greater risks when fielding the softcore balls and moving out of the way of wild pitches. The kids that played with hardcore balls faced something dangerous and they knew it would hurt, which made them be more conservative. Risk compensation can even take place outside of sports. Motorists with seatbelts are more likely to drive more recklessly than other motorists without their seatbelts. Edward Green with the Washington Post talks about risks compensation in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Pope Benedict XVI commented that condom distribution was not helping the fight, but worsening it, he was pointing out to risk compensation. Condoms are meant to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS, but they were actually helping the spread. People would feel protected enough that they would take place in riskier sex acts, making the condom useless and helping the spread of HIV and AIDS.
Rugby is the sport that started American football. Walter Camp changed the rules of rugby to create American football. It is an American tradition that cannot ever be taken away, that is why we need to fix it. Rugby is absolutely a violent sport, players are jumping, running, hitting, being put into giant huddles, and players are even being thrown, and they do this all without any protective equipment. If we ask many Americans, they may not understand the rules about Rugby. Rugby does not have as much injuries as it does in football. It is ironic that the sport with the most protective equipment has more injuries. In the British Journal of Sports Medicine there is a study about Rugby. In this study, scientists wanted to find out if headgear reduces the incidence of concussions in Rugby. Sixteen under 15 rugby union teams were recruited from three interschool competitions in metropolitan Sydney and the adjacent country region. A prospective study was undertaken over a single competitive season. The study had two arms: a headgear arm and a control arm. Headgear wearing rates and injury data were reported to the investigators and verified using spot checks. “A total of 294 players participated in the study. There were 1179 player exposures with headgear and 357 without headgear. In the study time frame, there were nine incidences of concussion; seven of the players involved wore headgear and two did not. There was no significant difference between concussion rates between the two study arms.” The conclusion was that although there is some controversy about the desirability of wearing protective headgear in football, this pilot study strongly suggests that current headgear does not provide significant protection against concussion in rugby union at a junior level. As we can see risk compensation was present in this study. Out of the 9 players, 7 were wearing the head gear. Due to having protection, here players must have felt more safe, and make more riskier hits.
Risk compensation is all around us and is not just on a sports field. When driving we are more likely to drive more risky while wearing a seatbelt. While boating we are most likely to make dangerous moves wearing a life jacket. With the phenomenon of risk compensation defined, we can now determine how to fix the problem of concussions in football. With the definition of risk compensation in our minds we can safely say that taking away helmets in football will make it safer and reduce the number on concussions.
Hagel, Brent PhD*; Meeuwisse, Willem MD, PhD “Risk Compensation: A “Side Effect” of Sport Injury Prevention?” Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine.
A S McIntosh, P McCrory “Effectiveness of headgear in a pilot study of under 15 rugby union football” British Journal of Sports Medicine
Brad Gagnon Nov 3, 2017 . “NFL 2017 All-Injured Team Is Loaded with Pro Bowl Players at Halfway Point of Season.” CBSSports.com, 3 Nov. 2017,