NFL players could soon wear motorcycle-style helmets as the sport searches for better ways to protect stars from head trauma and concussion.
As the new season begins on Thursday, football continues to be dogged by concerns over the risks of brain injury and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease associated with repeated repeated blows to the head.
NFL EVP overseeing Player Health and Safety Jeff Miller told Mail Sport he expects the facemask to look much different over the coming years.
That could see the traditional bars – that are so synonymous with football – replaced by a more solid design which better guards players against damaging blows to the head.
Position-specific helmets have already begun to emerge but Miller expects even more drastic design changes to follow.
‘I presume in the next few years the facemask will change,’ he said. ‘Does it have to have bars? Could it be a more motorcycle-type look? All those things are possible.’
NFL players could soon see their traditional facemasks replaced by motorcycle-style helmets
When quizzed on whether that would mean a solid bar around players’ faces, he added: ‘It could be, because I don’t think the facemask as currently designed does a great job of mitigating some of the forces to the helmet… I would argue it could do much better so I think we’ll start to see something different.’
Such drastic change could prompt opposition among players who have grown used to the current design. Miller acknowled that ‘changing helmets is hard – especially for players that are wearing the same thing when they entered the league that they were wearing in college’.
But he insisted: ‘Player acceptance and feedback are all important but the driver in any conversation is going to be: what advances the health of the athlete first?’
Last year, the NFL first mandated the use of guardian caps, which offer extra padding over the top of players’ helmets.
Offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers and tight ends wore it during 2022 preseason, prompting around a ’52 per cent reduction in concussions compared to the three-year average,’ Miller said.
‘That was surprising, we weren’t really anticipating that level of change.’
Last year, the NFL first mandated the use of guardian caps, which offer extra padding
NFL EVP overseeing Player Health and Safety Jeff Miller spoke exclusively to Mail Sport
The cap also reduced the forces of each individual hit to the head by around 15-20 per cent. This season, the experiment was expanded. Running backs are now mandated to wear the caps, too, while players must keep using it throughout preseason and in contact practices during the course of the regular season.
‘Last year there were some concerns (that) they don’t look particularly great – and it’s kind of hard to argue – and concerns about slippage and fit,’ Miller said. Some players raised issues around heat, too.
That prompted a slight redesign and Miller claimed earlier in preseason that ‘the feedback from the players has been much more consistently good than a year ago.’
He believes ‘the day could come’ when they are worn during matches but the hope is that in a few years, the guardian caps might be redundant.
‘Hopefully there’s something better,’ Miller said. ‘I do think there are big strides we can still take.’
This season, for the first time, a new quarterback-specific helmet will be available
Among those changes is be position-specific helmets. This season, for the first time, a new helmet, designed specifically to offer more protection when a quarterback’s head hits the floor, will be available.
The NFL works closely on head injury prevention with rugby, which is currently mired in controversy over its handling of dangerous tackles. Rugby has adpoted a hard-line approach with more red cards now being handed out.
Miller did not rule out stricter punishments in football, too. ‘The goal is behavior change over some period of time, to eliminate some of those avoidable head contacts,’ he said.
‘Rules, education and eventually – or potentially – discipline even on an escalating basis – maybe it’s a warning and a fine, then a penalty or a suspension, whatever the case may be. They’re all tools we can use. Our goal isn’t necessarily to throw more flags on the field and penalise more players. Our goal is to avoid those hits in the first place.’