Imagine being paid millions of dollars for a profession. Now imagine knowing that this very profession will cause very severe damage to your body every week. This is exactly what professional football players do between the months of September and February. Hundreds of players put their minds and bodies on the line for the public’s amusement, and they are playing the ultimate price for it. In the NFL, concussions are becoming a very common side effect of playing the game. CNN discusses how the NFL reported 1,215 concussions in the past five NFL seasons. Mathematically speaking, concussions occurred 0.95 times a game in those past five seasons; that’s almost one per game. According to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, a person with a history of repetitive brain trauma has a highly increased chance of developing Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a degenerative brain disease that form proteins called Tau that spread throughout the brain slowly killing brain cells. CTE leads to chronic brain diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, and premature death. The NFL is a multibillion dollar corporation, and football is an American tradition, we cannot just ban football to be played. Some want to change the rules of football, drastically changing the game. There however is a way we can protect players, and not have to drastically change the game. To make football safer we need to take the helmets off the players.
Football is a very violent natured game, injuries are more likely to happen during football than any other sport. This year alone, so many players received season ending injuries, not even halfway through the season. With all the injured players, we could make a 53-man team with backups. All these players wore the same amount of padding and helmets, but they still had extreme injuries. It’s so dangerous that each team only plays 16 games a year. Baseball plays 162, hockey, and basketball play 82. Sure, we think the players are protected head to toe, but actually their heads are in grave danger. The head trauma has become so painful to watch that an ESPN football analyst even quit his job. A New York Times article talks about how Ed Cunningham resigned from a top job as a college football analyst due to the fact he did not want to see these college players health at risk. Cunningham a former player, saw other players as old as him have to retire due to fear of CTE and other long-term brain injuries. He said he cannot simply keep contributing to footballs multibillion dollar apparatus. He just couldn’t see the brain injuring hits on college kids every week. Football players heads may look protected, but helmets hurt player, and the numbers prove this.
According to CNN, there have been 22 former NFL players who have been killed due to CTE, most of them committed suicide. Former Steeler’s center Mike Webster committed suicide at the age of 50. His brain was discovered be affected by CTE. Dave Duerson, Ray Easterling, and Junior Seau all great players of their time, committed suicide and were later discovered to have been affected by CTE. CTE can only be professionally diagnosed by an autopsy, so there must be hundreds of former players living with early stages of CTE. Dr. Bennet Omalu first identified CTE in 2002, football has been played since the early 1900s so there must have been thousands of cases before the 21st century. CNN also reports that according to a study published in the Journal of American Medicine (JAMA), Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy was found in 99% percent of former players. In September of 2017, the brain of convicted murderer, only 27-year-old Aaron Hernandez showed one of the most severe case of CTE ever. These numbers show how devastating head trauma is to current and former NFL players, with all the padding they wear, we would think that players would be safe. Helmets are actually the main problem in the war on head trauma. They do protect players somewhat from hitting the ground, but then another helmet hits another, it is like two Mack truck colliding. The results are deadly for the brain.
Helmets can only do so much when protecting a player’s brain. The game of football is very violent, players are close to 7 feet and mostly all weight over 200 pounds. The results of a brain getting hit by a 300-pound defensive lineman can be disastrous. Helmets may be somewhat protective, but they actually have negative effects. Helmets cause players to feel more protected and in turn cause them to take riskier hits. This is a phenomenon called risk compensation, and has actually been seen in other sports. An article in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine written by Brent Hagel and Willem Meeuwisse discusses this phenomenon. Protective equipment may prompt their users to act more aggressively and increase their chances for serious injury. Risk compensation has been seen in many different sports such as baseball, hockey, and skiing. Athletes have protection that makes them feel safe and they do riskier techniques that result in injuries that the protection cannot handle. 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 management 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.
Getting rid of helmets in football is the best option when making football safer, it will make concussion and injury rates decrease dramatically. Risk compensation is playing an enormous role in head injuries received in the NFL. When players have the helmet and the pads, they feel protected and invincible. They in turn will make riskier hits that will injure themselves or someone around them. Players without helmets will feel unprotected and will not make those risky hits that cause severe injury. They will play more conservative and not risk their brains. There is so much evidence that supports this proposal.
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. Toward the end of the 1940’s players no helmet. The concussion rates were low due to the players being taught that the initial point of contact when tackling should be the shoulder. In the early 1960’s the point of contact when tackling was moved from the shoulders to the head. The change was made right after new safer helmets have been developed. Over the period of 1955 to 1964, there was a noted increase in the number of tackling fatalities compared to between 1945 and 1954. Players were dying right on the field due to brain and spinal cord injuries. 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. Even though spearing is banned, we still see it today. Players may do this on purpose, or by accident. There is no physical barrier to stop these players, so taking away helmets will prevent them with no physical barrier, but they will fear for their health.
American football and rugby are extremely similar in many ways. In fact, Walter Camp, the “Father of American Football,” actually changed the rules of rugby to become what we know today as American football. A study conducted in Sydney, Australia discovered how risk compensation affects rugby players. This study conducted by Dr. A S McIntosh and Dr. P McCrory studied sixteen under 15 rugby union teams that 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 groups: a headgear group and a control group. 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. In the study time frame, there were nine incidences of concussion; seven of the players involved wore headgear and two did not. 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 at a junior level. As we can see, risk compensation was present in this study. 9 players received concussions and 7 were ones who were wearing headgear. There were not a larger number of concussions because of rugby not having pads, and the players with the headgear only felt safe enough that they could hitting with their head. It is quite amazing that out of 287 players without headgear only 2 received concussions.
Any type of headgear is detrimental to our football players. Many see them as some kinds of machines, but they are humans. They still can be injured and have years taken off of their lives due to increased amount of brain trauma. Removal of helmets will end helmet to helmet contact, it will end tackling drill deaths, and it will end the pain of the world. Helmet to helmet contact is the worst thing a person can do to their body. Two helmets come at each like two cars crashing head on, and the results are disastrous for the soft tissue inside a human’s head. Men have been paralyzed or even died from head on helmet hits. Along with instant death, these hits cause long term mental damage, they cause concussions, they cause CTE, and then they cause death.
Even though loss of consciousness is a symptom of a concussion, most concussions happen without a loss of consciousness. Players take a hit, then since they did not lose consciousness they assume that they are fine and go back to the field, injuring their brain more. In the NFL there are spotters who watch the game and decide if a player who took a hit needs to come off the field, but do they always see each hit? There is so much action going on the field at once. In high school there are no spotters, it is up to the discretion of the athletic trainer who cannot see everything from the ground as the spotter cannot see everything from up high. A student who is fighting for a starting spot get a nasty blow to the head, and does not lose consciousness, is he going to keep playing or go to the bench where someone can take their spot? A good friend of mine plays center for our local high school team, he is a junior and in a tight race for the spot. He walks to his car with a box the size of a basketball containing ibuprofen. I confront him and say why do you need that. He responds with, I get a lot of headaches, and I cannot tell anyone because I will lose my starting spot. I later told his parents about this because I did not want him to end up like all these NFL players with advanced stages of CTE. No one can go into these players brains and feel what they feel, officials cannot stop helmet to helmet hits before they happen. All of this just happens and we need to see what happens after the hits. All these hits, they are killing people.
Today’s football helmets are extremely evolved from the old leather helmets. Before advanced helmets, concussions were really no worry at all. Players were taught to tackle with their shoulder instead of their head. Then when the helmet came into play, the number of head and spinal injuries, and deaths increased dramatically. This is because after 1954, players were taught to hit head first. This was influenced by the new advancement of the helmet. Players felt safer and would hit harder. Today’s helmets have extra padding and facemasks now a day. We have been researching ever since the mid 1900’s and have developed the most advanced helmets. The advancement in helmets has been a leading factor in the reason that concussions are more common than ever. Players are feeling safer and safer, and are making more riskier hits. Since 2014, there has been a 58% rise in the frequency of concussions. However, recently a helmet has been created that will be different from all the other helmets. According Wired. Com, that helmet is the new Zero 1 helmet. The Zero 1 is created by a company in Seattle called Vicis. The new helmet is supposed to flex on impact, instead of a traditional helmet. The Zero 1 is like a car bumper, it flexes and absorbs the force. A traditional helmet is like hitting a metal trashcan, the outside of the can absorbs the force, but rattles everything inside. In this case the brain is being rattled when a player gets hit. The new Vicis Zero 1 helmet features a 4-layer system to absorbing shock. These include a lode shell, a core layer, an arch shell, and a form liner. The lode shell is an outer layer that makes contact with other helmets, it consists of bendable plastics. The core layer is made up of hundreds of flexible columns that act like shock absorbers. his layer is the heart of the Vicis helmet, and was developed with the help of Per Reinhall, head of the University of Washington’s mechanical engineering department and a co-founder of Vicis. The columns vary in length and thickness depending on their position in the helmet. They are made up of a resistant polymer that bends in any given direction when bent. It is kind of like a knee or elbow joint. When we jump, our knees absorb the force when we land by bending. In the helmet the polymer bends, absorbing the shock. Under the core layer is the arch shell and form liner. The arch shell is the base of the polymers, while the form liner fits custom to the persons head, adding more protection. The Zero 1 has gone through many tests to see if it is safe for our player. These include a drop test where a dummy head in dropped onto an anvil, and a rotation test, where a moving pendulum strikes the helmet form the side. Both tests concluded that the Zero 1 helmet reduced the force of impact from 20-50 percent compared to traditional helmets. With a helmet like this, the NFL is a lot safer, chances of head trauma are reduced significantly and player’s minds can rest at ease.
The new Vicis Zero 1 helmet may sound like a great invention, but it is clearly the opposite. Ever since the introduction of the new traditional helmet concussion rates have been through the roof. This is because of risk compensation, more stigma that the helmets are helpful, then players will hit harder, and make risky tackles. Now with an even more protective helmet, players will play even more dangerous. They may even begin to hit head first, which is extremely dangerous. Why make a helmet that will increase concussion rates when we can just discard them? Playing without helmets will make the league safe and watchable. Rugby players play the game that American football is based off of, and they wear no padding. They do not see the kinds of head trauma in the NFL.
President Trump took many shots at the NFL at his Alabama campaign rally. He slammed players for kneeling during the national anthem, but he said a particularly disturbing comment. The president suggested that the NFL is being ruined now that they are addressing brain injuries. His exact words were “Because you know, today if you hit too hard — 15 yards! Throw him out of the game. They had that last week, I watched for a couple of minutes. Two guys, just really, beautiful tackle. Boom! 15 yards. The referee goes on television, his wife’s so proud of him. They’re ruining the game! They’re ruining the game.” He basically said that efforts to make players safe ruins the game. President Trumps comments were very disturbing at his rally. These players are human beings, they are the same as us. We all are humans, we get sick, we all are susceptible to injuries. The president basically is saying that efforts to protect players from early CTE related deaths makes his game watching experience unenjoyable. There are probably many people out there that feel this way, but do not have the means, nor the courage to say comments like this. That is fine, it is their opinion. Here is a way we can all enjoy the game, and our players are 100 percent safe. Take away these weapons, let players not be prompted to take those dangerous hits. Helmets need to be put on the sidelines.
Helmets do not help the problem, but they are the problem. Football is already a dangerous game, and when we give players weapons on the field, the games becomes even more dangerous. Newer helmets will make the players hit even more harder, causing more severe injuries. Rugby is as dangerous as American football, and it does not see the kind of injuries that football sees. Playing without helmets will cause the players to become more careful on the field, making football safer. Instead of sidelining our players because of injury, we need to sideline helmets.
- Hagel, Brent, and Willem Meeuwisse. “Risk Compensation: A.” LWW.
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