Man Up NFL – Ditch the helmets


I’m talking American Football.  The game where almost 50 men complete against one another 11 at a time with plenty of breaks in the action to catch their breath.  They are strong, large men, many of them obese and wear enormous pads and helmets to protect them not from the other men, but from the other men’s pads and helmets.  Why do I care? Well, I always have, but watching a college game yesterday made me want to comment on it.

Chris Owusu, a wide receiver for the Stanford college team was removed from the field Saturday after being struck in the helmet by…another helmet.  This was his fourth concussion and reports have him being taken off the field unconscious.

This phenomenon is nothing new in the world of American Football and has been studied for decades.  A simple google search returns studies that talk about ensuring the players hit each other less, or not head to head.  Good luck.


The entire motivating factor in American Football is to hit the other guy hard, yet there is no stat for hits.  So if the culture of the sport is encouraging dangerous play, shouldn’t we protect the players?  Surely stronger pads and helmets will protect them right?  Sadly no, it just adds a harder hit from the other guy.  It’s a lot like arguing that car accidents will be safer if we all had bigger heavier cars.  Foolish, yet that is what the NFL, NCAA and youth programs are doing.  They add more pads and stronger helmets, all the while seeing more injuries and more serious injuries to boot.


I’m not a huge fan of American Football and have a number of ways to make it more interesting to watch, but none of them is “HIT HIM HARDER!”

My first order of business is to remove the helmets in use now and replace them with nothing.  Yes, nothing.  It’ll take a little while for the game to adapt but far less people will be getting concussions if they have to go skull to skull against the other guy.  It might actually require them to learn how to tackle, not just hit.  Look at rugby and Australian Rules Football, both requiring more strategy, fitness and contact to tackle a person as opposed to simply hitting him so hard he passes out.  Imagine an NFL lineman who can run farther than 40 yards…

But American Football fans don’t want to watch men who can play an entire game.  They live for the hard hit across the middle, knocking the player who caught the ball on his face in some form of ancient battle.

Removing the helmets, the radio transmitters and making the players actually play the whole game with limited substitutions (imagine that!) will greatly increase the pace of the game as well as the entertainment factor for those of us interested in a competition, not a battle.  Not to mention, less career ending injuries.


Lose the helmets NFL, what do you think you are? Hockey?  As far as I can see the only hazard on the field is the other team and the only reason is because they’re heavily fortified as well.

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9 thoughts on “Man Up NFL – Ditch the helmets”

  1. Nobody ever believes me that there is almost no actual playing done in football. While I was stuck at a college football game, to prove my point, I used a stop watch to time the actual amount of playing that was done. At half time (the point when I got too bored and left), playtime had reached a grand total of 4 minutes and 26 seconds.

  2. The lack of helmets does force a different playing style in rugby – no tackling above the shoulders, no leading with the head – but the lack of protection also makes the game more dangerous. If the goal is to make football safer, one could do better than to try and make it like rugby, which at best probably has the second-highest rate of head injuries among popular sports. If you assume that getting rid of helmets will promote a certain playing style and reduce injuries, then changing the rules to favor that playing style while keeping the helmets on ought to reduce injuries more.

  3. I was almost instinctively thinking, “But eliminating the helmets is a terrible idea! The injuries! The horrible possibilities! The huge manatees!”

    Then I got to this part: “Look at rugby and Australian Rules Football, both requiring more
    strategy, fitness and contact to tackle a person as opposed to simply
    hitting him so hard he passes out.”

    You’re right: there are sports that are just as “dangerous,” and yet they manage well enough without the helmets.

    I wonder if the NFL could handle such a thing, though – or, rather, could the egos of the current players cope?

  4. at last , an American who has seen the light! professional rugby has few head injuries- they just can;t afford it! and they don’t wear helmets. At amateur levels there are probably more injuries- often due to poor technique, and they run about playing for a whole 80 minutes and don’t swap the entire team every time the wind changes. 
    I wonder if there are any other sports or games out there which we are making MORE dangerous by adding more and more “protection” to?

  5. Damn you HM for pissing off the trauma gods. Now I’m going to have one combative head injury patient every two hours. 

  6. Hard to teach somebody to play without a helmet after 10 or so years of wearing one- high school and college athletic organizations will never go for it.  Rookies will be dropping like flies. 

    Never mind the fact that if I wanted to watch rugby, I’d watch rugby.

    1. So you’re saying that you’d rather see people injure themselves so you and your buddies could have a few beers and watch them?

  7. Having never understood American football, I suppose I shouldn’t comment.  However, when has ignorance ever stopped anyone?

    Rugby Football, particularly Rugby Union, is a players’ game.  To appreciate it, you really need to have played it.  (I have.)  In my experience, few Rugby players would welcome masses of PPE to be required simply to take the field.  However, there is a bit of a difference in what’s allowed.

    In most types of football – either of the two Rugby versions and Association Football (“soccer”), the idea is to play the ball, not the man.  Sure, Rugby has its scrums (and in Union, the “loose scrum”) but you don’t simply charge down a bloke because he’s in the wrong colour shirt.  You tackle the man with the ball, not his mate halfway across the field.

    If you have the ball, you need to move quickly and pass it to someone else as soon as a tackle is likely.  Doing this in body armour will slow you down, and you’d find someone’s arms around your ankles PDQ.  The running makes the varieties of Rugby much more quick and open, so tactics and skills, rather than simply muscle and a high pain threshold, make the game.

    Taking away the body armour from American football would mean a change to the game, but from most spectators’ points of view, I’m sure this would soon be welcomed as it would make for a livelier performance.  Fitness, rather than simply muscle and weight, would become much more important.

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