The NFL and indeed every level of football has worked over the years to increase the safety of the players in the hard-hitting game. Helmets, padding, shoes, and even uniforms are designed with safety of the players in mind.
So why, with all this safety focus are we discovering the level of permanent brain injury among players - even players early in their professional career? Simply, progress in science and new technology allow us to gain more understanding of the nature of brain injury. This along with the awareness of brain injuries being suffered by our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have helped us see that brain damage can occur without the symptoms of a concussion.
The more I think about it, the more I think that maybe reverting to the uniforms of the 1950’s mad indeed be preferable. The perception of invincibility given by modern uniforms has proven to be a false comfort for many players. As we know more about head injuries, we realize that they are silent stalkers that show their full effects ten and even twenty years after they occur. Despite the new rules and enforcement on helmet contact, many blows to the head still occur. Even though it may not be helmet-to-helmet contact, injurious contacts still occur on almost every play. Going back to a facemaskless helmet would quickly bring to an end these kinds of hits.
While professional players argue that they are aware of the risks and are paid well to take them, that argument falls flat when one considers that the vast majority of players play the game at the amateur level. New research shows that even some players at these lower levels are experiencing potentially lifetime affecting brain injuries. With high school and college players far outnumbering the pros, we must keep them in mind when making rules and equipment decisions.
The safety promised by the current equipment has proven to be a failure of technology. We must make changes soon to protect all participants in the sport whether they recognize the necessity of it or not.