Jerry Seinfeld has a classic riff about the helmet’s invention being testament to man’s stupidity: “Why did we invent the helmet? Well, because we were participating in many activities that were cracking our heads. We looked at the situation. We chose not to avoid these activities, but to just make little plastic hats so that we can continue our head-cracking lifestyles.” In football, that point may be valid.
Viewing American football compared to its progenitor, Rugby, and to its cousins in other countries, you see two distinctions. First, American football players wear a ton of padding and hard-shell helmets. Second, maximum impact collisions are prevalent. The cousins are brutish. They have contact, but the violence isn’t reckless. Players don’t become chiseled vectors hurtling into each other at full speed. The two may be interrelated.
If players were less protected, they might take more measures to protect themselves. Joe Paterno has argued to get rid of the face mask, because it encourages players to use their heads. “It’s a weapon. Guys are fearless.” Mike Ditka expressed similar sentiment two years ago. “If you want to change the game and get it back to where people aren’t striking with the head and using the head as a weapon, take the mask off the helmet.”
Removing the face mask would not be a panacea. It wouldn’t solve the trouble of sub-concussive blows, but it would be more of a deterrent than a plausible fine.
Legislating away the most egregious violence is a fruitless errand. Football must change fundamentally to re-emphasize tackling and reduce high-impact collisions. Players are being maimed and paralyzed. New revelations about the brain trauma players are suffering is coming out weekly. Clearly, the measures in place to protect those participating are inadequate.
Eric LeGrand’s injury was not a “freak accident.” It was a logical outcome of the game we sanction. The sad fact is seeing a young kid paralyzed is not enough for us. It will take a player dying on the field, in a high-profile game, to foreground that point and inspire reform.
[Photo via Getty]