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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Is It Time to Retire the Football Helmet?

Maybe, according to some sports physiologists.

The helmet, and padding in general, sets off an interesting 'arms race' among athletes, much like evolutionary selection pressures generate astonishingly potent snake venom on the one hand, and equally astonishing prey resistance to reptilian toxins on the other. Encasing an athlete in foam and acrylic and putting a steel cage in front of his face changes football from a contact sport to a collision sport, and the result is we have traded separated shoulders for brain injury.

I remember the standard techniques from high school football: head-up, and lead with the face. Removing all that armor would lead to some highly refined shoulder tackling in no time, same as if everyone was forced to drive from the hood of their car.

I recall two instances from high school football. In one, I got up from a blocking drill against someone twice my weight seeing a green tint to everything. In another game situation, I got double-teamed on an offensive sweep and had a lovely mild concussion. Football games are pretty interesting when you've had all sense of time and tactile sensation knocked out of you.

On the other end, I was in a practice scrimmage against another school at safety. The linebackers spun the running back around, and I stuck my helmet right in his back. He went down in a heap, and I'm sure he had a cracked vertebra.

Rugby in college, lots of musculo-skeletal strain, but no closed head injuries, although it's still a pretty violent sport.

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