What good are helmets at protecting the wearer from head injuries? For some, the answer is, “Not very.”
A 6-year study involving members of 8 collegiate football teams who wore either one of two types of revolutionary, concussion preventing helmet showed one helmet reduced the risk of concussion by 54% over the other. But authors of the Journal of Neurosurgery article caution, “While some helmets will reduce risk more than others, no helmet can eliminate risk.”
Not very comforting. If the brain and skull can be likened to a yolk within an eggshell, how many eggshells might it take to fully eliminate the risk so that no one ever again experiences a traumatic brain injury?
Or what if helmets were banned entirely? In Newton’s Football, author Ainissa Ramirez, a former Yale University engineering professor and co-author Allen St. John discuss doing away with football helmets altogether. Their rationale: Other contact sports without helmets, such as rugby and Australian-rules football and soccer, have much lower rates of concussion than American football, and helmets only add to the danger. When face masks were added to American football helmets, “they made the players feel invincible, which was the impetus for the concussion epidemic,” quoting Ramirez. “[Football players] started tackling with their heads. By adding this face mask, we changed behavior so that it became more dangerous for concussions.”
“Fines don’t work, and fear of a future illness doesn’t really do it. So how do we create that paradigm shift?” asks Ramirez.
If there is no such thing as a concussion-proof helmet, and with other prevention efforts lacking, a helmetless team might rely on instinct and self-preservation to play safely…
Or maybe the problem isn’t with helmets at all.
Quoting sportscaster Bob Costas, a name synonymous with Sunday Night Football, “It’s when you get to the field that you find football’s single most significant and ongoing problem: You can’t play football at the [highest] level without a substantial portion of players suffering some sort of brain trauma.” Costas concludes, “Football has an existential problem.”