In Brief

NFL 'could ban helmets' to protect American football stars

Ditching the iconic headgear would stop players using their heads as weapons says NFL safety chief

If American football is synonymous with one piece of sports kit, it is the helmet. But the NFL's safety chief believes the sport could one day ban the headgear in an attempt to reduce the risk of head injuries.

The counter-intuitive move was flagged up by Dr John York, chairman of the NFL health and safety advisory commission, in an interview with the BBC. "Can I see a time without helmets? Yes," he said, explaining that the headgear often gives players a false sense of security and increases the physicality of the game.

"The reason the idea is back on the table is because of the NFL's belated acceptance of the link between head injuries and the type of neurological problems that only boxers were believed to encounter in later life," reports Matt Slater of the BBC.

The NFL recently reached a $1bn legal settlement with ex-players suffering from head trauma and has taken steps to try and prevent players from suffering concussions, which can lead to long-term problems.

And helmets were not always part of the game. Leather head protection was first worn by players at the turn of the 20th century and hard plastic helmets were introduced in the 1940s. By the 1960s helmets with faceguards were commonplace.

"These developments were intended to improve safety, but they also emboldened players to make bigger hits, often using their helmets like battering rams," explains the BBC. "Concussions were inevitable."

But while getting rid of helmets would stop players risking their long-term health by using their heads in the tackle, it would open the door to more serious injuries, says Mike Florio of NBC.

"While the removal of helmets would reduce concussions that currently happen when players use those helmets as weapons, players who aren't wearing helmets would be more prone to skull fractures via accidental collisions occurring at full speed," he warns. "And skull fractures are far more likely to cause death than concussions."

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