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The football helmet is a piece of protective equipment used mainly in American football and Canadian football. It consists of a hard plastic shell with thick padding on the inside, a face mask made of one or more plastic-coated metal bars, and a chinstrap. Each position has a different type of face mask to balance protection and visibility, and some players add polycarbonate visors to their helmets, which are used to protect their eyes from glare and impacts. Helmets are a requirement at all levels of organized football, except for non-tackle variations such as flag football. Although they are protective, players can and do still suffer head injuries such as a concussion.
One of the first instances of football headgear dates to 1896 when Lafayette College halfback George "Rose" Barclay began to use straps and earpieces to protect his ears. It is not certain who invented the football helmet. Many sources give credit for the creation of the helmet to James Naismith, while other sources credit U.S. Naval Academy Midshipman Joseph M. Reeves (later to become the "Father of Carrier Aviation"), who had a protective device for his head made out of mole skin to allow him to play in the 1893 Army-Navy game. Reeves had been advised by a Navy doctor that another kick to his head would result in "instant insanity" or even death, so he commissioned an Annapolis shoemaker to make him a helmet out of leather. Later, helmets were made of padded leather and resembled aviators' helmets or modern day scrum caps. At least in professional football, they were optional. Some National Football League players, notably Hall-of-Famer Bill Hewitt, played all or most of their careers without a helmet.
One innovation from the early 1900s period was hardened leather. 1917 marked the first time helmets were raised above the head in an attempt to direct blows away from the top of the head.[clarification needed] Ear flaps also had their downfall during this period as they had little ventilation and made it difficult for players to hear. The 1920s marked the first time that helmets were widely used in the sport of football. These helmets were made of leather and had some padding on the inside, but the padding was insufficient and provided little protection. In addition, they lacked face masks. As a result, injuries were very common. Early helmets also absorbed a lot of heat, making them very uncomfortable to wear.
1938 marked a new era in the football helmet history. The Riddell Company based in Chicago, Illinois started manufacturing plastic helmets because it felt that plastic helmets would be safer than those made of leather. Plastic was found to be more effective because it held its shape when full collision contact occurred on a play. These helmets were also much more comfortable and had more padding to cushion the head in an impact. Included with the plastic helmet came plastic face mask, which allowed the helmet to protect the entire head. By the mid-1940s, helmets were required in the NFL. They were still made of leather, but with improved manufacturing techniques had assumed their more familiar spherical shape. "By the 1950s almost every player in the NFL wore a helmet made of plastic."
Introduction of advanced materials
By the 1950s, the introduction of polymers ended the leather helmet era. The NFL also recommended face masks for players in 1955, reducing the number of broken noses and teeth, but also necessitating new rules prohibiting opposing players from grabbing the face mask. The NFL rule was changed prior to the 2008 season, eliminating the 5-yard penalty for unintentionally grabbing an opponent’s face mask.
According to Andrew Tucker, football helmets adequately protected players from catastrophic brain injuries, but helmet manufacturers had no motivation to design helmets that decrease the risk of concussions. Vin Ferrara, a former Harvard quarterback, accidentally discovered a new way to cushion football helmets. One night, Ferrara was looking for an aspirin when he saw a squirt bottle in his medicine cabinet. As he pumped it and then punched it, he realized that the bottle withstood the blows of different forces. Ferrara immediately came up with the idea to encase football helmets with a number of inflatable pockets in order to cushion the blows a football player receives.
A more recent addition to the football helmet is the visor or eye shield, which is affixed to the face mask to protect players from glare or eye injuries, such as pokes. It is believed that the first player to use a protective visor in an NFL game was Mark Mullaney of the Minnesota Vikings in 1984, in order to protect a healing eye injury. Top manufacturers of visors are Nike, Oakley, and Under Armour, with Leader being the first to come out with a visor/shield for former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon. While Mullaney and McMahon's visors were tinted, most of the earlier visors were clear or smoked, but they are now offered in a variety of styles ranging from blue, gold, black, rainbow, silver, or amber. High-school and pee-wee leagues prohibit all but clear visors. This rule was enacted so that training staff and coaches can easily view a player's face and eyes in the case of a serious injury, to discern if the player is conscious. The NCAA banned the use of tinted visors for the same reason, and the NFL has followed suit as well. However, players with eye problems may still obtain special permission to wear tinted visors, some notable examples being LaDainian Tomlinson and Chris Canty.
Helmet sensors have recently[when?] become a big phenomenon in football. They record data on hits a player receives, such as the force and direction of the impact. If the force recorded by the sensors is over 100 Gs, it signals a possible concussion. It is known that some players will experience up to 2,000 of these potential concussion blows each season. As the player is returning from such a blow, the data is sent to a central computer which then breaks down the information and displays it on a screen for team doctors to observe. New rules have been implemented which instruct that any player who has a particularly high reading of force needs to be taken off the field and examined before they can play another down.
NFL rules state that all helmets equipped with headsets must have a visible green dot on the back. A few times in 2006, the holder on the field goal attempt was told to pull up and throw or run at the last second because of a change the coaches saw on the field. According to the NFL, this gave teams an "unfair advantage." The new rules let each team know who is wearing a headset and hearing the plays being called.
In 2007, Schutt Sports announced the arrival of a next generation helmet, the Schutt ION 4D. This next generation design was in response to the demand for a safer football helmet. The design includes an integrated face guard. This new face guard design features shock absorbing "Energy Wedges" that reduce the force of impacts to the face guard. College Teams wearing the helmet include Air Force Academy, Penn State, and Virginia.
Rules in place for NFL, NCAA, and high school football require that all helmets be certified by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment. Reliance on NOCSAE certification has been criticized on numerous grounds, including that organization's control by equipment manufacturers causes a conflict of interest, testing data that focuses on skull fractures instead of concussions, and failure to take into account new research.
There has been significant study/research regarding head injuries in football, as well as football helmet design in recent years. Kevin Guskiewicz, a professor at The University of North Carolina and a MacArthur Fellow, has for many years been researching concussions in football of all age groups. He has been equipping UNC football helmets with accelerometers to measure impacts and concussions. Also, the NFL has awarded over $1.6 million in sports medical research, almost $1 million of which has been toward concussion prevention. All this concussion prevention research has lead football helmet manufacturers to develop safer products. A joint effort between Virginia Tech and Wake Forest has been testing current football helmets and giving them yearly ratings since 2011. On a scale out of 5 stars, only one helmet was awarded a 5 in 2011. In 2012, two additional helmet designs were awarded 5 stars.
Neuroscientists took the problems of this testing into their own hands and came up with an effective tool to test newly manufactured helmets. Specialists at Ohio State University launched baseballs from air cannons in order to simulate a kick or blow to the head such as a tackle. Even though this method was used to test face masks, this also left many people in awe of the force that these helmets could withstand. The study reported that the helmets could withstand 2,500 Newtons or about 562 pounds of force. This method of testing was the hardest ever done to a helmet previously as the last test was 2,439 Newtons and 548 pounds of force.
Loss of helmets during play
The helmet will sometimes be wrenched from a player's head in the jostling of a play and leave the player vulnerable to injury. Sports Illustrated for January 15, 2007, includes a couple of photos of Jeremy Shockey of the New Orleans Saints, continuing to push for extra yardage in a playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles, despite having lost his helmet during the play. The NFL implemented a rule change from the 2010 season causing the play to be whistled dead when the ball carrier lost his helmet.
One-bar face masks
The one-bar face mask has been illegal in the National Football League since 2004, but a grandfather clause allowed players who wore the mask prior to 2004 to continue to do so for the remainder of their careers. No current NFL player currently wears such a face mask; the last player to do so was Scott Player, who last played in the NFL in 2008.
The one-bar had two different variations. The standard one-bar was made from nylon or other hard plastic and was bolted to both side of the helmet just in front of the earholes. There was a "snub" version that did not extend as far out in front of the helmet as the standard.
Face masks for football helmets today are multibar. The multibar facemasks are made of a number of materials including titanium, stainless steel, and most commonly carbon steel. Each face masks is coated with Polyarmor G17 a powder coating that is resistant to impact and corrosion. The Polyarmor is a thermoplastic coating used on a number of surfaces. While some organizations purchase new face masks every season, others have their equipment reconditioned.
The Los Angeles Rams were the first NFL team to put logos on their helmets, and as of 2013 the Cleveland Browns are the only NFL team not using any form of primary logo on its helmets. The Pittsburgh Steelers are the only NFL team that puts its logo on only one side of the helmet (the right side).
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- Riddell: Product Detail
- Schutt ION-4D Who's in it?, football helmets, baseball, softball bats
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