Assault with a Deadly Weapon: How Dangerous are Football Helmets?

October 14, 2011
by Justin

It was a hot, humid day in South Illinois. I was so excited; I had worked out so hard, from the day after my last high school game to get ready for my first two-a-day. I strapped up my pads and got hyped for my freshman year of college football. What I didn’t know was that the juniors and seniors were going to haze all of the freshman football players. Outside of the late-night food requests and having to carry their football bags, nothing hurt us worse than when we put on full pads. The drill was supposed to be at medium intensity. I was the first to find out that the upperclassman didn’t get that memo. I was so excited to finally hit somebody that I jumped to the front of the line to face the biggest and craziest guy on the team, El Toro Smith. El Toro (which was his real life government name… I should have known right?) tried to take my head off, and he nearly succeeded. The athletic trainer came to my aid as I sat trying to figure out why couldn’t see any colors. I had a concussion and I had no idea what was ahead of me.


Mr. Smith used his helmet as a weapon that day, and ironically became one of my best friends. The helmets that most high school, college and professional football teams use have dramatically changed. The rules and the testing have become more rigorous since I last laced up my cleats. A haunting statistic is that every year more than 60,000 high school athletes suffer concussions. A concussion is the most common type of traumatic brain injury, and the football field is where a high concentration of concussions occur. Concussions have been tied to horribly debilitating illnesses such as Lou Gehrig disease. Here is an example of what a concussion is:


What has been done?


Helmets were introduced to football during its inception in the early 19th century. Leather helmets were the first form of head protection offered. The problem was that leather helmets gave little to no protection for the skull and neck. The 1960s introduced the football world to the plastic helmet, which became a mandatory piece of equipment. Since then, the helmet has been armored with padding to protect the wearer from head injuries. In 2002 the Riddle Revolution was introduced to the masses along with Schutt’s DNA Pro Adult Helmet, which are both used at every level.


There has also been mouth guards that have been made to combat concussions. In addition to protecting a player’s teeth, tongue and gums, a good mouth guard will go along way toward protecting the player from concussions. Mouth guards are molded to each player’s teeth and provide the significant protection needed to prevent high-level head trauma. The NFL has also done several studies that’ve determined the dangers of concussions. Here is an interesting story on concussions from ESPN Outside the Lines, that confirm other issues that have surfaced for athletes who have suffered multiple concussions:


Baseline Concussion Tests have also been made available to athletes in states like Arizona at no cost via the Mayo Clinic, the same institution whose founder treated Lou Gehrig. Here is Dr. David Dodick with some information on the Baseline Testing Initiative:


Concussions should be taken very seriously. Do some research on people like Lou Gehrig or Dave Duerson and you will see how important it is for you to recognize any symptoms of being concussed. It can be the difference between life or death.



Yorick Hempstead is an ex-college athlete who is a sports blogger for He is always talking sports on twitter @HempsteadHuddle.

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