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Preventing Head Injury: Should We be Talking about Rules or Helmets?

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Helmet-to-helmet collisions in the National Football League (NFL) have been a major topic of discussion during the 2010 season. One factor that has not gotten much attention is the equipment involved, specifically the helmet that is worn during the game. Protecting players from injuries such as concussions that are caused by the violent collisions that take place on a game-by-game basis should be the top priority of the NFL. Instead, the major controversy of helmet-to-helmet collisions this year has been what constitutes a legal or an illegal hit. Pittsburgh Steelers players have strongly voiced their opinions to the league office about fines handed to players accused of leading with the helmet when making a tackle, noting in their argument the standard form for making a tackle and the shifting planes of players moments before collisions.

Whether legal or illegal, violent collisions in the NFL will continue to be part of the game. The league may try to deter the use of the helmet as a weapon when making tackles with its assignment of fines. However, it is evident that helmet-to-helmet collisions will remain part of the contest because of variables outside of players’ control, which is why the helmet should be the predominant focus of this discussion. NFL players will no doubt continue to get bigger, faster, and stronger, which is why examining the makeup of the helmet, including the cushion within the helmet and the weight of the facemask, is important. The severity of collisions among NFL players will continue to increase, which is why all players should be outfitted with the safest headgear possible.

It is unfortunate to hear about an NFL player receiving a specially made, safer helmet after he has been part of a collision that has left him with a concussion. The NFL must take a proactive approach and outfit all players with the safest helmets possible. The performance of equipment must mirror the increasing performance of the athlete in order to safeguard the health of the athlete.

Mr. Foley is the Registrar at the United States Sports Academy. He is a former Kansas State University baseball player. He has worked as a tutor in public schools, a college coach for baseball and basketball, and as a physical education instructor. Foley also worked in the front office for the Palm Springs Power summer collegiate baseball team.