NFL health and safety chair sees a future without helmets

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As the NFL continues to look for ways to make the game safer, one way to make the game safer could come from a removal of one of the first significant pieces of football safety equipment.

The helmet.

Dr. John York, co-chair of the 49ers and chairman of the NFL’s health and safety advisory committee, believes that in the future helmets eventually could become a thing of the past.

“Can I see a time without helmets? Yes,” York told the BBC. “It’s not around the corner, but I can see it.”

York explained that removing helmets would require the elimination of the three-point stance, with linemen upright at the snap.

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. And skull fractures are far more likely to cause death than concussions.

The better approach would be to minimize opportunities for head involvement while still providing maximum protection from accidental contact. Switch to the two-point stance, ban all helmet-to-helmet hits, prevent players from launching in all situations, but keep the helmets on the players to guard against the inevitable elbows and knees and feet that routinely strike heads currently protected from being split open.

UPDATE 6:52 p.m. ET 6/20/15: The 49ers say that York’s comments were misunderstood, and that he does not believe the helmet will be removed from the game.

101 responses to “NFL health and safety chair sees a future without helmets

  1. On one hand, it might make players more marketable, since you’ll be able to see and recognize their faces better.

    On the other hand, it will kill the the NFL.

  2. Better yet just do the coin toss, heads you win tails you lose. Wait now, someone might break a nail during the toss.

  3. I was gonna say flags next, but that still leaves opportunity for contact. Let’s just hook them up with lazer tag gear and they can just lazer the ball carrier.

  4. patswhatsup says:
    Jun 18, 2015 5:30 PM

    Wow, the chairman of the NFL thinks it would be safer to play football without helmets.

    Makes sense!
    ————————–
    York is the chairman of the 49ers and the NFL health and safety committee, not the league as a whole.

    While fans don’t want to see it (myself included), he’s probably right – all it will take is one on-field death from a head injury that shouldn’t have happened.

  5. Let’s just digitize every player and play the games electronically, that way nobody gets hurt or enjoys themselves.

  6. Last time I checked no one is forcing these guys to play. They all know the consequences, no one wants to watch football be played without helmets. There’s a reason no one watches rugby.

  7. Here’s a better idea. Instead of increasing the “wussification” of the NFL in it’s inevitable slide towards flag football… How about we just make the game MORE dangerous. Don’t change any rules and take away all safety equipment. It’d just be guys in t-shirts and short in bare feet playing NFL quality football.

    I know, I know.. It’ll never happen. But it sure would separate the men from the boys. You’d see broken bones and all manner of injuries and probably even some deaths. I’m not saying that would be a good thing. But if we are going to take football to any one extreme we should look at all options. Right?

  8. Yes but can you envision a tie where there won’t be helmets and the NFL has fans??

    I for one won’t be watching, it’s time for the NFL and players to accept that it’s a dangerous sport, and if you don’t like it please feel free to Not play and go get a job waiting tables

    Players don’t care and they know the risks, the only seem to care when a lawyer is telling them they can get more money

  9. The name “York” leads me to believe he is related to someone name “Jed” who is in the middle of bottoming out the Santa Clara 49ers, and now John wants to do the same thing the entire league! Get the Yorks out of the NFL …now!

  10. The answer is really quite simple and it doesn’t include going without helmets; just get rid of the face mask.

    Players will think twice about charging in head-first if they don’t have a face mask. No deadly head-to-head hits; just a slightly uglier set of faces.

  11. I think this guy also sees a future where nfl games draw about an average of 1000 people because almost noone thinks its worth watching anymore.

  12. The answer, plain and simple, is nerf.

    1. Nerf footballs, so you don’t have anyone tampering with the inflation.

    2. Nerf helmets so that players heads bounce off each other.

    You heard it here first. 😉

  13. In the early days of football there were multiple deaths. The game was in danger of being eliminated. This led to allowing the forward pass.

    Check out Its a Football Life: The Forward Pass. Exellent view of the early days of the game and thru to Walsh and the West Coast offense.

  14. They will never eliminate the helmet. There would be too many players accidentally killed due to head collisions. Make better helmuts, more shock absorbing helmets. Tweak the way tackles are made..

  15. As a youth, Dr. York regularly played football without a helmet…And we see the end result.

  16. How about the helmets from Starship Troopers?

    Make it co’ed as well.

    Rugby is brutal btw.

    See that lady that broke her nose and kept playing. In the NFL if you bleed to much you can’t play.

    For real though they will do away with battering ram helmets and use something else.

    To Ariani1985. All I have to say is enjoy second place in the division. Vikings are going the right direction.

  17. To those who have brought it up…while rugby is the closest sport to American football, it is still apples and oranges to make a comparison.

  18. The death of an American game: The crisis in football Hardcover – 1979
    by John Underwood (Author)

    This book makes the case for removing the helmut from the game,,I read it 36 yrs ago and it made a lot of sense then,,makes way more now
    Removing the face mask would not have the same effect as taking away the battering ram that is the helmut

  19. How about we just agree that football is dangerous and move on letting it be. If you don’t want to watch, play, or let your kids play then so be it.

  20. Allow holding. No, seriously. Let the O-line and D-line hold. If you want to get to were you need to be, beat the man in front of you. Allow contact ( but not holding ) in the defensive back field. This will decrease the force that players hit each other with by limiting the separation and speed of the players, yet it will still be a very physical demanding sport. It will still be football, just the 70’s version. Sure the final scores may be 13-7 but I would rather watch that than a 70-63 flag football match.

  21. The problem isn’t the helmet technology, although I’m sure it could be improved. The main problem is the brain moving in the skull. No current technology can prevent that collision from happening.

    As for the commentor saying no one died before helmets, I’m not sure if you are joking or not. But take a look at 1905 and college football deaths. 19 in one season.

  22. Eliminate the tackling below the knee and the stiff arm. Penalize running backs for spearing and problem solved. The NFL refusal to let go the past in exchange for big hits. Allow the hits eliminate the stuff that causes a player to use their helmet i.e. Protecting their knees and the stiff arm.

  23. The helmets do exactly what they are designed to do. They prevent skull fractures. No helmet design will prevent concussions in an impact game with speed. They can minimize the impact trauma a little but the concussions in the NFL are mainly caused by the brain slamming against the skull due to the sudden stop of momentum. Padding will not stop this. All padding will do is increase friction at the point of impact (limits glancing blows) and add more risk to neck/spinal injury. All the league can feasibly do is limit intentional head contact by hammering the headhunters with fines and suspensions.

  24. Whether or not the NFL uses helmets is not the issue.

    The fact that the NFL won’t explore using the more technologically advanced and potentially safer helmets that are becoming available, because the league would have to spend more and thus don’t make as much money that way, is the issue.

  25. It’s a myth that gets ridiculous stock put into it – the fact is helmets are NOT the weapon people portray them to be; they are superior protection for players, and are only becoming better. Making the game safer requires trusting in the toughness of the players and the equipment, because both are the best arbiters of safety and both only continue to improve.

  26. You don’t have to get rid of the helmet entirely just reduce it’s current effectiveness which also renders it a weapon were a players can lead with his head and drill another player and get up and walk away.

    There is no reason that the padding that current players wear need to be bullet proof and consequence proof. Reduce the padding, reduce the protection to something that protects from skull fractures and play the game.

    Players won’t spear because it will knock the dog crap out of themselves. They’ll learn to make real tackles rather than simply flying into someone at full speed and throw a should into them.

    I’m all for less padding and a return to a purer game and think it will be safer for all the players.

  27. remove the helmets, might as well remove the pads. become the AMERICAN version of RUGBY , an have the players play “sandbox football style ”

    can’t hit the player past the line of scrimage, but behind the lines GO AHEAD .

    MORE RBS ,more qbs BEING HURT

  28. In the year 2050, a little boy says “Grandaddy I have to do a history report on the year 2020 what was the “Last Football Game” about? Do you remember? “

  29. Lol… At Rugby fans, thinking Rugby is just as brutal if not more than the NFL, while maintaining the idea that it is safer. Talk about trying to have your cake & eat it too.

    Rugby might not have helmets, but what it does have is concussion problems.

    Does George North (R.Union) concussed x3 & told maybe he should sit out the remainder of the year, inculding the RWC ring a bell? How about Ryan Hoffman (R.League) concussed x3 & will likely continue to play this season, even though he shouldn’t?

    I’ve seen countless Rugby players (Both Codes) get knocked senseless this season, same as every season & plenty of AFL players KO’ed too.

    If the NFL gets overcome by the concussion issue & goes downhill Rugby won’t prosper it’ll follow suit!

    So say goodbye to American Football, Rugby Union, Rugby League & Aussie Rules & just embrace Football (Soccer) or E-Sports as your new sport of choice, lol!!

  30. Rugby still has very bad injuries playing with no helmets. Lots of spinal injuries that the NFL has mostly done away with because helmets allow players to stay aligned when they hit. Rugby players can’t do that and it’s pretty bad. Take a look at some of the statistics. There’s no evidence that no helmets will help anything.

  31. Never happen…….. in the early 1900’s there were deaths in football in fact there were discussions about banning the game.
    The modern players are too big and fast to ever think about not having helmets.

  32. pats4rings says:
    Jun 18, 2015 7:41 PM

    How about we just agree that football is dangerous and move on letting it be. If you don’t want to watch, play, or let your kids play then so be it.

    ———–

    I agree… it is reasonably safe, meaning you shouldn’t die. Lots of people take more risk than that in their daily jobs and fully accept it. Lots of other sports have much larger risks also and they are acceptable. Making it safer is a good thing to a point, but if you can’t take the danger completely out of a contact sport and have it be the same sport.

  33. Let’s call it knee ball and make it illegal for players to stand up at all. That way there’ll be no kicking, no gunners, no cut blocking, no launching, no high speed collisions, no excitement at all. By that time technology will allow for a laser cover over the field and anybody exceeding four-and-a-half feet above the turf would be ejected.

    Gosh Billy, I think we’re onto a good thing here!

  34. connfyoozed says:
    Jun 18, 2015 8:28 PM
    Whether or not the NFL uses helmets is not the issue.

    The fact that the NFL won’t explore using the more technologically advanced and potentially safer helmets that are becoming available, because the league would have to spend more and thus don’t make as much money that way, is the issue.
    ___________________________________

    Huh? When did the league start paying for player’s equipment? I always thought that was the responsibility of individual teams. Even if that’s the case, and a team pays an additional, what, $50 or $100 per helmet for a better helmet, and goes through maybe 1000 helmets a year, that’s not a make-or-break deal for any team with an 8 or 9 figure income.

  35. Actually we’re going back in time removing the helmet which is how it was played at the turn of the previous century. There were so many deaths and serious injuries multiple rules were created including…ADDING HELMETS! Just because you don’t have a helmet on doesn’t mean someone won’t try to take your head off nor to you have any defense again the undefeated champion…THE GROUND!

  36. “…far more likely to cause death than concussions…”

    Yes, owners, death is way better than concussions, get rid of those helmets keeping these guys alive because:

    1) You don’t have to pay a dead guy.
    2) Dead guys can’t sue you.
    3) Dead guys don’t hold out.
    4) Dead guys don’t make little money signs with their little dead fingers.
    5) Dead guys don’t deflate balls; although they do decompose kind of.
    6) Dead guys don’t shoot their friends.

    There, six real good reasons not to give them helmets anymore.

    Oooh – 7) Dead guys don’t get concussions.

  37. No way this happens. It is a violent game and there are ways to virtually eliminate violence to the head. Forcing players to tacle from mid chest down is the way. Can’t go too low though or knee problems with go through the roof. Mid thigh to mid chest is the tackle zone. Football without helmets is like playing tiddly winks. It’s a stupid game and no one would pay to watch it.

  38. in 25 years there will be no actual players on the field.. only robots controlled by people off the field… and the name of the game will change to NFL Robotic Wars. this way no player ever gets hurt.. Or NOT. (this was sarcasm folks)

  39. Well on the good note if they got rid of helmets the games would only cost $5 A game to watch for the best seating. Baseball would then become revelation again.

  40. I truly believe these owners these days and the people they hire have totally forgotten what made this sport great. Leave the game alone!

  41. “The better approach would be to minimize opportunities for head involvement ”

    Cut the players head off, that willl solve the problem.

  42. All this talk about removing face masks… how about keep the mask and ditch the helmet, everyone looks like a baseball umpire?

    That would be dreamy Tom Brady’s and Tony Rome’s preference, to protect the face.

    That’s as ridiculous as this idea is.

  43. Lol… At Rugby fans, thinking Rugby is just as brutal if not more than the NFL, while maintaining the idea that it is safer. Talk about trying to have your cake & eat it too.

    Rugby might not have helmets, but what it does have is concussion problems.

    Does George North (R.Union) concussed x3 & told maybe he should sit out the remainder of the year, inculding the RWC ring a bell? How about Ryan Hoffman (R.League) concussed x3 & will likely continue to play this season, even though he shouldn’t?

    I’ve seen countless Rugby players (Both Codes) get knocked senseless this season, same as every season & plenty of AFL players KO’ed too.

    If the NFL gets overcome by the concussion issue & goes downhill Rugby won’t prosper it’ll follow suit!

    So say goodbye to American Football, Rugby Union, Rugby League & Aussie Rules & just embrace Football (Soccer) or E-Sports as your new sport of choice, lol!!

  44. The NFL is slowly going from the top dog, to becoming irrelevant.
    Part of the love for the game is the collisions. They are violent, but absent MMA, and Boxing, they are today’s gladiators. They fill the arenas and fans flock to see the violence. They are payed well to be the barbarians we come to see.
    Flag football (NFL without helmets), would be as unwatchable as the current pro bowl.

  45. Because a manufacturer wont give in to the Mob Like Demands and turn over all their profits to the greedy NFL for the privilege of being the exclusive NFL helmet provider, the NFL chooses to put inferior helmets, in regards to safety, on its players, but they are sooooo concerned with player safety.

    It is inexcusable, because the NFL in its infinite greed, for them not to provide the best equipment on its player. Is it the only issue, no, but, if they are so concerned about safety, then they should put the safest, best helmets on the players.

    There is no way to eliminate all injuries out of football, and no way to eliminate concussions with a better helmet, but if you can cut concussions in half, those actions would be worth it. I believe the guy that developed the helmets for NASCAR drivers said the NFL helmets are a joke compared to his helmet, and the NFL shunned his proposal to use his helmets. Again NFL ignoring science for their greed and agenda. The NFL and most of their owners are scum.

  46. Change the rule so that a receiver only needs to get one foot inbounds. More throws would go to the sidelines, not the middle of the field, which would eliminate a lot of big collisions. More QBs would roll out, not be sitting ducks in the pocket. Offensive and defensive linemen and linebackers would have to be lighter and quicker, so that they could be more mobile. The sidelines would end up leading the team in tackles, and that reduces the number of hits. No brainer.

  47. 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.
    ============

    I would love to see the backing data that supports this claim, assuming you actually have any.

    All around the world, contact sports that involve hitting and tackling (Rugby, Gaelic Football, Australian Rules Football) are played without helmets and since I follow most of them, I can tell you that skull fractures are so extremely rare that while they probably have happened I can’t even remember hearing about one.

  48. All sports are dangerous and the athletes who choose to play them know the risks. The better players also know how to take care of themselves 12 months a year throughout their playing career so as to minimize time lost to injury.
    Yes, football is a contact sport but the risks for serious injury/death are just as high in sports where helmets aren’t worn–skiing, diving, skateboarding, gymnastics, and competitive cheerleading, ice skating, etc., which would make it appear that these athletes aren’t the whiners the “tough guys” are and are the real athletes without a pack of lawyers interfering in a sport they’ve no first hand knowledge about.
    And, flag football players use helmets too!

  49. Seeing where the NFL is headed, I’m not so upset about losing my team. We’ll all be losing the NFL as we know it anyway.

  50. I thought of this years ago, and I don’t know why Football, Hockey and other contact sports don’t try it.. Do what Racecar Drivers do and attach the helmet to the shoulder pads. This reduces the whiplash affect and at very least reduces upper spinal injuries. Obviously it would need to be designed in such a way that would let the players head swivel, but I’m sure they could find a way to incorporate that. But yea that goes against all rational though *new equipment that protects plays and prevents injuries = bad!*

  51. Rugby players wear little to no padding while playing. Many players only wear mouth guards while playing (if even that, as not all groups require them). Concussions still happen in rugby but not as often because of improved tackling (you have to wrap up every tackle and there is no tackles allowed above the chest).

    Joe Paterno said for years that if you want to stop concussions, get rid of the facemask. Players are going to be less likely to launch themselves face/helmet first without facemasks.

  52. Close, but not quite:

    You don’t get rid of the helmet shell covering the cranium. What you get rid of is the FACE MASK covering the face.

    Do you think that might change the way players tackle? Think about it…

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