Hines Ward: “If you want to prevent concussions, take the helmet off”


In the NFL’s ongoing effort to reduce concussions, former Steelers receiver Hines Ward thinks helmets are doing more harm than good.

Ward said on the Dan Patrick Show that helmets are used more to allow players to deliver big hits than to protect players on the receiving end of big hits, and therefore players would suffer fewer concussions without helmets, as players would stop leading with their heads out of self-preservation.

“If you want to prevent concussions, take the helmet off: Play old-school football with the leather helmets, no facemask,” Ward said. “When you put a helmet on you’re going to use it as a weapon, just like you use shoulder pads as a weapon.”

Ward makes an interesting point, one that has been advocated by others. And it’s worth noting that while football helmets have been worn for decades, they’ve always been designed to protect the skull, not the brain. It’s only been recently that concussions and brain injuries have become the No. 1 point of emphasis in injury prevention in football, and people have begun to ask whether helmets, by allowing players to get into high-speed head-on collisions without cracking their skulls, may actually be encouraging players to play recklessly.

So then the question becomes: Are we willing to accept more skull fractures in exchange for fewer concussions? The NFL would probably say we should accept neither skull fractures nor concussions. Which is why the NFL has focused on ways of preventing concussions that don’t involve removing helmets.

71 responses to “Hines Ward: “If you want to prevent concussions, take the helmet off”

  1. I remember playing sand-lot tackle football as a kid and young adult. The worst injury you got was a jammed finger. You actually tackled instead of just lowering your head and try to knock the guy off his feet. Can’t really argue with what Hines said.

  2. I’ve been saying the exact same thing on here for years, and have been endlessly ridiculed. Let’s see how people respond when it comes from one of their heroes.

  3. I don’t agree with this particular approach but he has a good overall point. Injuries have continued to increase even as equipment becomes safer because players feel like it allows them to take more risks.

    It’s counter-intuitive, I know. But when it comes to getting rid of certain hits, reducing some of the equipment would probably do far more than a $7,850 fine 4 days after the fact or telling defenders you can’t hit quarterbacks below the waist/above the shoulders/can’t hit them after they’ve thrown the ball you can’t see because of the way you’re forced to tackle.

  4. How about people just watch Soccer or rugby? Take the helmets off and watch the fans leave.

  5. Look at Rugby – they don’t wear anything more than a padded skull-cap if that and generally they have less of a concussion issue.

    With that being said its not a completely clean coorelation – in rugby you rarely have players gaining full heads of steam by sprinting 10+ yards at one another (think a safety hitting a receiver coming out of the break, for instance), but still an interesting idea.

  6. Short sighted. Yes, it may prevent some concussions resulting from using the head as a weapon, but, and I’m guessing a bit, it seems about half of the concussions are caused by heads hitting the turf and knees and elbows.

    Force = Mass x Acceleration.
    Acceleration is defined as a change in velocity over time. If you can increase the amount of time the brain decelerates (ie more/better padding around the helmet) you can decrease the force the brain absorbs.

    Think head first into a brick wall, or head first into an air mattress.

    Not that i’m advocating helmets made of mattresses.

    Larger helmets with more padding do exist and the players by in large refuse to wear them. At some point you have to quit blaming the league and take responsibility for your own head.

  7. Exactly, a sports radio announcer said like 8 years ago that they should make defenders wear less padding. Therefore, they couldn’t use their body + the super padding to launch themselves like a missile and hurt other players (and themselves). If they wore less padding they would actually try to tackle people correctly.

  8. This is one of those theories that, on the face of it, seems to make sense but with so much at risk, I think more research ought to be done before doing away with helmets.

  9. I played football from ages 8-18 and rugby from 18-27 and have never had a concussion. I’ve been plenty banged up, but when someone is not wearing a helmet, they are naturally going to protect themselves more. Take the helmet off, there is going to be much less leading with the head. I agree with Ward 100%.

  10. Hines is right, and everyone who follows/plays football (Goodell included) knows it.

    That being said, the NFL will never remove helmets, because the games would be slower and less exciting without them. It’s ALWAYS about money with corporations – the only reason they’re so worried about concussions is because of their own financial liability, so the only way they’d remove helmets would be if they had a huge financial incentive (e.g. players refusing to play) to do so.

  11. PAD THE OUTSIDE OF THE HELMET but no the nfl would lose the bone crushing sounds of the game if they did

  12. The first helmet was invented by a player that had been kicked in the head too many times, so you still have the same original problems to deal with.

  13. I believe someone just did a study about mortality rates in football in response to this idea. Turns out that before helmets, plenty of people died playing football. What would you rather have? A death every year or slightly more concussions?

  14. You want to prevent concussions, just put the flags on. Its the size and speed of theses guys, helmet or no helmet concussions happen with that type of contact.

  15. The problem with this idea is it would stop defenders from leading with their helmets, but it won’t stop them from hitting offensive players in the head. Where is their protection then? As Hines points out, they can lead with their shoulder pads to the head.

    Maybe they allow more contact between defenders and receivers? Get rid of the illegal contact/chuck rule and only have pass interference. Even the playing field a bit so big hits aren’t the only weapon they have.

  16. the last year in college football that they didn’t wear helmets 13 people died from skull fractures. but, sure, Hines.

  17. This is such an incredibly short sighted opinion. Most concussions happen when the players head hits the ground after a tackle or sack, now please tell me, just what is going to happen to all those heads that are slamming against the ground with no helmets on???!!!

  18. My father has a permanently deviated septum because of repeated broken noses from football. In fact, he had one of the very first face masks that at the time were only allowed to help prevent repeated injuries.

    If football adopted two key rugby-style rules, they would eliminate 80% of concussions: 1) require all runners to remain upright and not drop their head/helmets; 2) require tacklers place their head behind the runner

    If you got rid of helmets, you’d have to either get rid of plastic shoulder pads or require soft-padded or hexcel-style padding.

  19. A lot of responses are not considering that many of today’s concussions are not the result of helmet-to-helmet contact, but are due to the violent whipping of the head and resulting contact with the ground.

    As well, the increase in numbers can be attributed to bigger, faster, stronger players. Ever see the bodies of football players from the 70s? They look like they never saw a gym. Ever see the GYMS themselves from the 60s and 70s? Spartan. Compare both to what we have today.

  20. A lot more players died from injuries in the early days of football before modern helmets were worn by the players. This has dropped to the single digits most years for all levels. Taking away safety equipment that is clearly saving lives is not the answer. Only way to get rid of head injuries would be to limit contact in the sport, which I don’t think anyone wants.

  21. This is the kind of stupidity that results from a discussion where the premise is all wrong. There is no concussion epidemic in football; what’s happened is people are overreacting to information and selling short the durability of players.

    Hines Ward is flat wrong. Removing helmets CANNOT reduce injuries because players will ALWAYS lead with the lead. Ward needs to shut up.

  22. Great…every game would resemble the Pro Bowl. No thanks.

    How about we leave well enough alone. It’s called assumption of risk. Maybe we should stop having police officers patrol bad neighborhoods. They might get hurt. Smh.

  23. Is it just me or does it seem like there are more concussions now with all the protection rules. On almost half the passing plays it seems everyone lowers their head, offensive and defensive players both, just before the collision.

    Is it because the receivers know they’re going to take a shot in the ribs with a helmet? Before defenders tried to smash the receiver to dislodge the ball, usually hitting them in the arms or shoulder area, but now they’re afraid of a penalty for coming anywhere near the head so they’re trying to smash the receiver just for the big hit in the ribs. As a receiver your natural instinct is to get low to avoid the pain in the chest.

  24. The comment is more about how ridiculous all this convo about eliminating concussions really is. Hines is right but he and we all know the NFL will never get rid of its best visible Branding tool the logo’d helmet – so there will always be concussions in the NFL… I know it’s not at the same level…but If there is good there also will always be evil & vice versa…. Concussions are always going to be a bi-product of the game – NFL just prep the $$$ accounts to pay for the future & current medical bills.

  25. Hines is 100% correct. I’ve been saying it and others have been saying it for years now. The main reason there are so many injuries is because people play the game with little to no regard for their own or other people’s bodies. They feel the rules or the equipment will keep them safe. So when they actually take a big hit, they can’t take it because they have learnt to play in a way where they don’t have to protect themselves.

    Also, for the fractured skull argument, no way!!! If you lose the padding you would almost never see any injuries like this. You don’t see it in Rugby. The only sport where a helmet is actually necessary to guard against skull fractures is in hockey, due to the ice. You’re very unlikely to get any fracture hitting your head on grass or leg bones, etc.

    If you want to make it safer, Hines has finally said what nobody else has the guts to say. Was never a huge Ward fan, but he’s dead right on this one.

  26. Why does everyone forget about the ground when they start talking about concussions. The ground causes more then half of all concussions so now please smart people what will happen when players heads start slamming against the turf/field with no helmet on?

  27. The idea that skull fractures would go up is erroneous. There is not an abnormally large amount them in non-helmeted contact sports, for the same reason that there would be less concussions- players are mindful of where their head is when they are tackling.

    Also, the significantly lower incidence of injuries of all types in rugby is attributable to more than just the lack of pads. The type of “tackling” that is so popular with NFL fans- players launching themselves into one another with absolutely no attempt to get low and wrap their arms, is expressly illegal in rugby. And not 15-yard-penalty illegal, but “you go off the field for 10-15 minutes while your team plays short handed” illegal.

    I am not going to be hypocritical about this- although rugby is my number one sport, I love watching football and agree that it would not be as exciting or popular if rugby’s rules were adopted.

    So I guess we just have to hope that someday technology catches up with the violence.

  28. Just make them practice in full gear with no helmets, that way they will be forced to learn how to correctly tackle and be more inclined to use it on gameday.

  29. Today’s helmets have a hard shell and do lot of damage on impact. Can’t they make helmets with a soft shell that will do a better job of protecting the skull and brain as well as reducing the damage on impact?

  30. yea I’d love to be diving head first into a pile of people trying to recover a fumble while 300lb lineman use their feet to smash my face in.. hines is an idiot.. if you think this is a good idea you’re an idiot. they got rid of leather helmets for a reason..

  31. I like the idea of trying something different, but there are just way too many variables in football for this to actually work. To be an NFL player I think that there has to be some sort of screw loose somewhere, guys like Ray lewis are nuts sometimes! So making these freaks of athletes sprint at each other undoubtedly would result in head on head collisions, plus they can hit their heads so hard on the ground some times. Just picture RG3 getting form tackled right in the chest by JPP and see his head snap back and crush the ground. Football doesn’t have scrums like rugby and there is too much individual tackling in football, a cornerback would never be able to tackle a tight end or running back ever again!

  32. ward can talk because he made through his career ok. make sure you don’t go and kill yourself later just because you said this and doesn’t have the ball to back-track it.
    Talking tall is one thing, walking tall is a different thing!

  33. Anybody do a tally on defensive players on IR? or hurt. Since these “player safety” rules have come into effect, defensive players are taking more hits and coming up hurt more than the offensive players. Who are we making this league safe for? when offensive players are racking up points and getting all the publicity and the hardest hitting players on the field are ending up on the bench.

  34. Problem with this is, there are still players like Brandon Meriweather who will lead with their heads regardless of whether or not it is protected.

  35. Remove cups too. That way there will be no cheapshots to the groin in pile ups, right Hines? Can you imagine a pile up for a fumble without helmets? This is a joke.

  36. Well, that makes sense. A 9 Billion dollar industry and you TAKE AWAY protective equipment and these guys still think they’ll get paid the way they do? Let the unions discuss that and player safety. Stupidest argument ever. Take the helmets away, take the viewers away. Yes, we get the point, but to even discuss it as a viable option is ignorant.

  37. Keep the helmets. Lose the facemask. This will accomplish the same thing. If people think they’re going to bust their face up instead of having it protected by the mask, they’ll stop leading with the head.

  38. If I can play helmetless tackle football with my uncoordinated, blue collar buddies, so can the best athletes in the world.

  39. If you get rid of the helmet, you’ll have to get rid of all of the hardendin equipment as well. Hello Rugby or Australian Rules Football, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing but boy would that take some gettin used to.

  40. I have been saying this for quite some time, but if the NFL truly cares about player safety. They would make all pads required (implementing that next year) and also mouthpieces. Mouthpieces are one of the biggest detterrents of concussions because of their shock absorbsion. That is if they truly cared.

  41. Players actively avoid thigh pads and other protective gear. Eliminate all pads and revert back to soft helmets. That will reduce concussions but increase lesser injuries. The alternative is to simply suspend the guys that keep leading with the helmet. No dumb fines… Suspensions that ultimately end in a permanent ban from the league.

  42. I’m sure somebody using his forehead to lay a hit to somebody’s temple wouldn’t cause a concussion.

    Seriously, people don’t get fractured skulls with helmets. Fractured skulls are fatal. Do the math.

    If they really want to eliminate head injuries they need to redesign the helment. Make it look more like the front end of a bumper car. The front of the helmet should have a softer pad on it, so even if it were to be used as a weapon, it would be like getting hit with a pillow instead of the end of a battering ram. Don’t make the point of emphasis on having the helmet protect the person being hit, make the point of the helmet to keep it from being a dangerous weapon.

  43. I have an idea… Lets remove hitting from the game and turn this into Arena league….

    Scoring will jump tremendously…. as will the number of empty seats.

    People pay to see the violence.

  44. Quick somebody look and see how many players died due to head injuries such as cracked skulls etc prior to helmets?

  45. Maybe the next time they have throwback uniform day, they should REALLY throw back– leather helmets and the thin old-school pads.

  46. there is a certain amount of risk to assume when you play professional football, why are we coddling these guys.

    just let them play the way they want and make them sign off.

  47. Here’s an idea:

    Design the helmet so that the shell splits open during hard helmet to helmet collisions without damaging the internal padding. Players then must go to the sideline to replace their helmets and miss plays (maybe you have to sit out a few plays and undergo a concussion test before returning???).

    My rationale is that the risk of lost playing time provides a disincentive for using the helmet as a battering ram and may in turn help discourage the practice.

  48. I agree. Go back to the leather helments without facemasks. And also, get rid of the shoulder pads.

    Equipment that was once meant for protection is now used as a weapon. The only way to stop that behavior is to remove the weapon.

    Maybe then some of these guys would actually wear a cup!

  49. This is a funny statement in the sense that you would never really think of it that way, but … it actually makes sense to some extent. It would be krazy to see players basically running around without a helmet but he is right about it making players VERY cautious not to lead or use their heads as weapons …

  50. Like you redesign product packaging they packaging of a player needs to be suited for the times as well. That’s where the real issue is not the fact they wear a helmet it’s the fact no one has taken the time to improve it

  51. I wouldn’t want to be on the field without a helmet with Hines Ward playing for the other side.

  52. Keep the helmets, just go back to those crappy breakable ones from the 60’s… no one will use the head as a weapon with that thing on, but at least they are protected from skull fractures, kicks, etc…

  53. I’m a retired professional engineer.

    One solution is to put high-tech shock absorbing padding on the OUTSIDE of the helmets and the pads, which are typically the surfaces that transfer the energy of the collisions, keeping the present interior padding intact (or upgraded).

    By placing the padding on the outside, much of the kinetic energy of the collision will be absorbed.

    A moulded exterior padding can be made of a tough material (in engineering terms) that will withstand both elastic collisions and severe abrasion, and bonded to the plastic shells of the helmets/pads. I can be made paintable to keep the team colors and logos.

    There was a MLB for Hank Stram’s SB IV winning Kansas City Chiefs in the 70’s named Willie Lanier, “Mr. Contact”, that had a wide strip of padding on the outside of his helmet, and as far as I know, he still has all of his marbles.

    Technology has come a long way since the 70’s.

    It can be done. Helmet makers should be thinking along these lines IMO.

  54. I’m not sure I’m on board with Hines. However as a Bengal fan, I’m not so sure former Bengal linebacker, Keith Rivers agrees. When Ward blasted Rivers many years ago, I’m convinced Rivers was ready for the Special Olympics. He never amounted to much after that hit. Rivers, no doubt, would have preferred getting hit with a two by four……or a Buick.

  55. Other thoughts on eliminating dangerous play and making the NFL safer and more entertaining:

    A player must not tackle an opponent carrying the ball without trying to grasp that player. Failure to grasp with arms, charging with the shoulder, torpedoing and spearing is dangerous play. Tackling shall be defined as wrapping ones arms around the ball carrier and bringing him to ground.

    A player may not intentionally strike another player with one’s head. Striking a player with one’s head is dangerous play.

    A player must not tackle (or try to tackle) an opponent above the line of the shoulders even if the tackle starts below the line of the shoulders. A tackle around the opponent’s neck or head is dangerous play.

    A player must not tackle nor tap, push or pull the foot or feet or legs of an opponent jumping for the ball until that opponent’s feet are on the ground. Tackling, tapping, pushing or pulling the foot or feet or legs of an opponent jumping for the ball before that opponent’s feet are on the ground is dangerous play.

    A player must not drive a tackled or blocked player into the ground while that tackled or blocked player is off his feet. Driving a player’s head and/or upper body into the ground is dangerous play.

    A player must not block (or try to block) another player at or below the knees even if the block starts above the knees. A block at or below the knees is dangerous play.

    Referees shall have the complete authority and the requirement to penalize dangerous play.

    The penalty for dangerous play shall range from loss of yardage and/or down to removal of the offending player for some period of time and the offending team playing short for that period of time.

  56. Concussions are caused by the brain getting jarred inside the skull. It’s the sudden impacts that cause a sudden movement (or stoppage) of the head that cause them. At the speed that players move, way too much padding would be needed to slow down the change of speed of movement to a rate that would minimize concussions.

    The helmets give a false sense of security. As an anecdotal example, consider my motorcycling. I usually ride with all the gear: full leather (a second layer of skin for abrasion protection), body padding, and a helmet. I know full well that at highway speeds, even with all the gear, I’ll probably be dead if I go off the road, high-side or go over-the-bars. I’ll just be able to have an open casket funeral. However, I notice, that when I ride (during the summer, I’m in Texas) without my leather, I am much more cautious and take fewer risks. It would seem that the same is true for protective gear in football. Players would not aim with their heads or duck their head at the last minute up high with a leather helmet.

    Those leather helmets do provide significant protection against skull fracture. They are composed of multiple layers of thick, treated, and cured leather. They’re rather thick and hard.

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