Inviting a Discussion on NFL Helmets – Has the NFL Dropped the Ball?

Has the “look” of the NFL gotten in the way of putting forth our best knowledge and innovation on helmet design?

Football Helmets used to be leather. Now they look like bad motorcycle helmets, with face guards.  But no one on the field is on motorcycles.

The NFL is about the product, the game, but it’s also about image. A player wears the wrong jacket or socks, and he’s fined thousands. Helmets, meanwhile, cap off the uniform.  They’re shiny.  Which is good: People like shiny. They make the tops of everyone look symmetrical, serious. Like they’re ready to ride motorcycles at high speeds. And it’s just football!

But, serious football. Like motorcycle riding. Big shoulder pads even! (Yet hurt shoulders are common. Do we have a stretching deficient but shoulder pad proficient NFL?) And, nice looking, shiny, symmetrical, helmets.

But when object A hits object B, the force is transferred from A to B. The force can be absorbed by movement of object B, or internal force upon object B. (This is bad if object B is a player.)  And the more initial “give,” the more force is absorbed by that give without then transferring beyond the “giving” material or absorbing movement, into the object itself. Or something such. I think.

A loose player who moves with a hit will absorb it better. This doesn’t work too well with heads; not too many places to move. But it works with bodies: Crumple, soften, move with the direction of the force.

(This applies to bad falls also – and they should be practiced, since they lead to so many injuries in the NFL, along with tucking the head. Practicing what are called “break falls” in martial arts – until keeping the head tucked when falling becomes habit – ought itself to be habit in football. It helps the game too: If Dez Bryant, a fantastic athlete no less, knew how to move and fall (and thus rotate his body toward the sidelines, using his body to shield the ball, keeping two hands on the ball to further shield and ensure the catch by keeping the ball off the ground – rolling through as he hit to soften the impact after what was otherwise a great athletic effort pulling in the catch and turning his body forward to begin with, the Cowboys – one of only two teams to defeat the Seahawks in Seattle since Russell Wilson entered the NFL 3 years ago – likely would have been in the NFC Championship game this past season for a rematch.)

When a hard helmet hits, all the exterior force will be transferred out. I think. (I’m not sure. In physics class I did what I thought class was for: daydreaming about girls, playing sports, and most of all, for class ending quickly. Turns out, as sitting for hours on end isn’t healthy – particularly for young, growing bodies – I wasn’t completely wrong.)

If that hard exterior of the helmet hits another helmet, or say anything else hard hits a helmet, all or most of the force hitting it will then be transferred to the helmet. Almost none will be absorbed by the hard, shiny – but let’s not forget “nice looking” – outer helmet.

Some will be absorbed by the padded, interior of the helmet. That part doesn’t have to be nice and shiny, attractive, because we don’t see it.

But, what if the outside portion was padded, or otherwise made to absorb as well? Then it seems any force striking it would first be somewhat absorbed, and lessened, by the soft or absorbable outer layer. Or something such. Maybe some engineers can weight in.

It’s a simple question.  And not only am I not certain about this, and can only marvel at the time space relativity Einstein’s imagination apparently grasped, I’m not positive about the real physics of football helmets and their precise role. So if what’s tentatively suggested here is wrong – okay, then it’s wrong.

But can that be shown? Resolved? I.e: “The hard outside of helmets does not matter, because…….. “ With that “because” reason being accurate: meaning the hard exterior of the helmet – instead of something that absorbs at least some of the force before it all gets transferred to the inside or (when delivering a blow, transferred onto the struck object) – somehow plays no role in injury occurrence or degree.

On the other hand, if there is no relevant and accurate, “because,” then it stands to reason football can easily be made safer with respect to by far and away our most important body part of all. The brain.

And if it can be done by the introduction of a softer outside, why is the NFL not doing it. And if it can, why are those concerned with safety, and in particular the safety that really matters – the brain – not calling, or even insisting upon it. Or are they?

If helmets can be made safer by dampening or doing away with the hard outer shell, frankly, it’s stupid not to. Any idea that the game is so less attractive that we would nevertheless need to cause extra incidental harm because we think the game is better because of shiny helmets, seems pretty backward.

So, either making the outside of shiny football helmets soft and absorb-able doesn’t really decrease the total impact of blows to or by the helmet, (or both), or it’s stupid to not have the outside of helmets soft and absorbable.

Which is it.

If the latter, let’s change it. If  the former, well, the good: this means we’re not doing something stupid that can be easily changed.

But something tells me that even if it is the former, there are other doable changes to improve helmet safety in the NFL.

We have equipment. We have technology. We use both, extensively in football. Given that the game is what it is (and before we perhaps make it something other than it is), are we doing as much as we can to not only protect players, but protect the part of us that matters the most?


The Monopoly “Pick a Chance Card” Effect of NFL Personal Fouls

Football penalty flags, particularly for “personal fouls,” have made a small but relevant portion of the game somewhat like Monopoly’s “chance” cards Continue reading