Helmets don’t eliminate concussions. It’s time for the NFL to ditch them

The leagues brain trauma epidemic needs radical solutions. If recent changes arent protecting players then we need to rethink the games fundamentals

One of the dumbest storylines of the NFL preseason was Antonio Brown and his banned helmet. The whole saga stunk of a marketing ploy, a soap opera built for the Instagram age. Yet beneath all that fluff, there was a topic worthy of discussion. If the league is serious about reducing traumatic brain injuries, should players wear helmets at all?

The biggest misconception about football helmets is that they prevent concussions. They dont. Helmets protect the skull from fractures. Concussions are caused when the brain moves inside the skull; helmets do little if anything to prevent the brain from rattling inside the skull. Helmets are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Modern NFL players are not built like normal people: they range in size somewhere between Captain American and The Hulk. When they put on a helmet, athletes gain a false sense of security. Since they believe helmets are there to protect them, they hit more often and with reckless abandon. Theres a psychological term for this: risk compensation. Studies of cycling and snowboarding found that athletes wearing helmets are more likely to take dangerous risks than those without. They know theres danger in plummeting down a mountain with a helmet on. Without one, they feel that danger and are more cautious.

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Then there is the facemask problem. Although NFL facemasks offer some protection, they also make opponents appear less human. One of the most impactful psychological studies of the modern age was Stanley Milgrams authority-obedience test. A significant part of Milgrams work was evidence that people are more likely to inflict pain and harm to people they cannot see. Its no stretch to believe the same is true in sports with facemasks and visors. The cycle continues: Hit more. Hit harder.

Facemasks carry a more significant risk, too. There are two different forces that can cause concussions: linear and angular. Linear involves a direct, head-to-head blow. Angular is an offset blow basically any contact that isnt forehead-to-forehead to the head. According to a report published in the Clinics in Sports Medical Journal, with angular force, the brain cells not only stretch but they twist around themselves causing either damage or death to the cells. Though they dont always inspire the same kind of gasps or shock, angular forces are more detrimental than linear ones. Additionally, the facemask also gives the otherwise spherical helmet a nose increasing torque, therefore amplifying any hit that isnt head-to-head.

Modern plastic, shelled helmets were not introduced to football until the end of the 1940s. Facemasks did not become commonplace until the 1960s. Prior to that, players tackled in a rugby style: with the initial point of contact being the shoulder (in the very early days of football, spear tackles were allowed but this dangerous practice was eventually outlawed). Once the plastic helmet was introduced, however, athletes felt safer and began to tackle headfirst. Fatalities spiked.

Authorities took the same approach then as they do now. They added more equipment and more rules. In the past 10 years, the NFL has altered the physics of the game: the way people tackle; kick-offs; new rules on punts; who can be tackled, and when.

Last years so-called bodyweight rule broke the dam for even the most ardent of player-health-above-all supporters. It was met with universal contempt. This wasnt football, the cynics scoffed. This was softer, more millennial. The goal was to keep quarterbacks on the field so the leagues owners could pen large TV deals, not preserve the brain cells of their stars. It was a step too far. The league was breaking the basic fabric of the game.

Taking the helmets off would change that dynamic. Players would naturally alter their style, but the general aesthetics of the game would be preserved. NFL coaches have preached about rugby-style tackling for years. In a helmet-free world that wouldnt be a fun niche, it would be a necessity.

Studies are currently underway into knock-on effects of such a drastic move, headed by the University of New Hampshire. In one season, head impacts decreased 30% by the end of the season in training groups that performed tackling drills without a helmet compared to those who completed the drills with a helmet. Learning howto tackle and take a hit is changing, too. Schools still use dummy bags, but they also use tackling robots and other innovative measures to cut-down on player-on-player hits. Most youth camps remove helmets altogether and use skull caps.

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Pro football has finally moved in line with college football it has become quicker, more finesse based, built around athletes in space, not power up the middle. Thats meant fewer destructive hits to players who play on the perimeter. But the risks remain the same for the big guys inside. Offensive and defensive linemen woodpecker away all game banging heads on somewhere between 70-80 plays in an average game. Thats about a 25 play-per-game increase in little over two decades. Thats 25 more times a pair of linemens helmets ricochet off one another and create a subconcussive effect, the phenomenon in which the brain hits the inside of the skull causing trauma but without players showing the obvious symptoms of concussion. New, innovative helmets do nothing to stop that; they exacerbate the problem. Removing helmets would force linemen to move their heads away from each other rather than risk bumping foreheads up to 80 times in a three-hour span.

The league has been focused on the dramatic hits that cause concussions, turn off TV viewers and scare parents away from feeding their children into the leagues pipeline. But its the subconcussive hits that have the most damaging effects long-term. If there is a concussion crisis in football, it is a subconcussive one.

Removing helmets is not about ruining the game fans love. Its about preserving the game and the players who play it. The current changes have been small potatoes, nice things to stick in a social media campaign or spin to TV executives or parents. Concussions and brain trauma will never be entirely removed from football or any contact sport but there is a radical idea sitting under the leagues nose. And its time to start taking it seriously.

Original Article : HERE ;

This post was curated & Posted using : RealSpecific

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