The chairman of the National Football League’s health and safety advisory commission, Dr. John York, has made it public that he feels the game of football will one day revert back to being played without helmets (as was the case around the turn of the 20th century).
It’s without question Dr. York shared his thoughts amidst a growing epidemic of the potential and serious neurological complications stemming from football that are now being realized as the toll players inevitably pay to put their bodies on the line any given Sunday.
Dr. York spoke with BBC Sport about his thoughts on the future of helmets in football, and other changes to the NFL’s rules that seek to improve player safety.
“Can I see a time without helmets? Yes,” said Dr John York.
“It’s not around the corner, but I can see it.”
For the game to be played without helmets, York says the league would have “to do away with” the three-point stance and start each play in a more upright position.
The three-point stance is the starting position usually taken by linemen when the ball is snapped – the three points being the player’s feet and a hand on the ground for balance.
Such a stance enables players to launch themselves at each other headfirst, providing the trademark crunch that punctuates each play.
York, a retired cancer specialist, admits an element of danger is inherent in American football, as it is in most sports.
But he thinks the NFL, which is used to making changes, should continue to tweak its rules, including, perhaps, ditching its iconic headwear.
And you know what? I agree with Dr. York 100% here. Doing away with helmets would make the game inherently safer, and probably not be as detracting from the entertainment value as you think.
The NFL first started requiring its players to wear plastic helmets of some form in 1943. Since, they’ve obviously evolved to the molded, “padded” polycarbonate shells that fans are accustomed to seeing fly around the field emblazoned with their teams’ colors. But along with the helmet’s evolution, the fierceness of impacts made during tackles has understandably followed suit.
It’s as if the helmet gives a player an excuse to turn his body into a flying missile, relentless at any cost to inflict as bone-crushing of an impact possible on his intended (and sometimes un-intended) targets. Total double-edged sword. On one hand seeking to protect players from head injuries, on another hand, acting as a catalyst for them.
No lie, I’ve held a similar stance to Dr. York since conducting an independent assessment of the NFL’s concussion policy as part of my college thesis. It’s a multifaceted rule change sure, but there are certainly rational ways to go about it. My thinking is not that helmet wear should necessarily be done away with in one swift motion; rather, the NFL needs to experiment with removing facemasks and/or tailoring a rule so that only a certain number of helmet-clad, position specific players are allowed to be on the field simultaneously.
Whatever the solution is, though, the NFL definitely needs to figure out a way to make the game safer for these guys. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is not a pretty thing, that’s for certain.
[via BBC Sport]