Safety over Comfort

Over the past five years the NFL has begun to take steps toward a stricter player’s protocol for safety and health. After every season, The Competition Committee reviews injury data and videos of specific plays to examine how injuries occur in the event that rule changes are needed. Amongst the dozens of committees dedicated to research, equipment engineering, and innovation for safety in the game as a whole, the NFL and NFLPA work together for the purpose of protecting players by identifying penalties, dangerous plays or improper use of equipment. Recently, evolution of equipment has been the talk of the league. 

Gossip Around the League

With the majority of the gossip relating to the short term and long-term effects of head trauma, many players are also speaking out on the topic, both agreeing and disagreeing with the new permitted helmet list. Wide Receiver Antonio Brown had no interest in wearing any of the newly approved helmets. Since he couldn’t wear one he was comfortable with, he threated the league with civil action if he incurs a head injury in the 2019 season. Other players like Tom Brady believe that the helmet performance testing is a positive, but it’s hard to get used to something new when you have a piece of equipment that has been working so well for you for such a long time. Here, Brady was referring to his very old helmet that he claimed is “probably out of habit.” 

Below is the newly updated helmet performance list in its simplest form. The green column stands for the helmets that have passed the test, while the other helmets begin to decline in performance and collision protection throughout the rest of the list. 

Aside from Antonio Brown and Tom Brady, many players spoke out about concerns with having to change their helmet to a type of model that they may not be comfortable with. For many of these well decorated athletes, they don’t feel the urge to change their equipment because they know what works for them and they don’t want to be forced to change not only the equipment they’re comfortable with, but the equipment they’re comfortable with that has been protecting them from injuries for years now. Dating back two years ago, The Verge released an article on brain injuries taken on from the constant head trauma that football players endure on a weekly basis. The study showed brain injury in “99 percent of donated brains of NFL Players” involved in the study. While the NFL has done a fine job or reducing those numbers, the chances of brain trauma and head injuries are still extremely high and inevitable in such a physical sport. This changed drastically when the NFL brought the results and statistics to the players. The NFLPA presented 2019 Helmet Laboratory Testing Performance Results List to the players hoping to change their minds or show some sort of progress. By the beginning of the 2018 season “only 41% of NFL players were wearing green labelled helmet models with another 17% wearing red labelled models” and by the end of the season, “74% we wearing green” with just 2% of league players still wearing red labelled helmets. 

Moving into the 2019 season, these statistics were even more important because of the exceptional upgrades made to the permitted helmet list, but also because while 32 players league wide were still wearing red labelled helmets at the end of the 2018 season, those helmets will be banned from use going into 2019. NFL executives have high hopes moving forward because “50 percent of players in the NFL upgraded to a better performing helmet” in anticipation for this coming season. By showing the players what can happen to them if they consider health over comfort showed for a drastic change in what the players wore and trusted on the field. 

Progress in Helmet Testing

Over the past five years the NFLPA and NFL have been testing the protective levels on dozens of helmets that are worn by the players and new innovations. It is no surprise that these measures are being taken with incidence of concussions being particularly high over the past five years. 

The NFL Player Health and Safety department releases up to date statistics on popular injuries like concussions each year. The graph above shows the past seven years of recorded concussion injuries, bringing attention to marginal increase from 2014 to 2015 as well as 2016 to 2017. But, as shown in the chart, from the 2017 to 2018 we have seen a marginal decrease in concussions now that the NFL and NFLPA are sharing the head injuries statistics with the players. They are making smarting decisions with the equipment they chose to wear and it is directly correlated with the decreasing number of concussions that occur in the National Football League. 

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