Monday, January 09, 2006

Weekly Random Ten (9 January 2006)

"Where the Hell am I?" Edition

Football (or "American Football" to my international readers) is a dangerous sport full of high impact collisions and body contortions. The power at which the hits occur is made worse by the impression of invincibility the athletes receive from their heavy padding. The average football player wears a helmet with face mask, shoulder pads, hip pads, thigh pads, knee pads, and a tail bone pad. Additionally, many players choose to wear add ons to their shoulder pads (lower back padding, pads that go around the entire lower torso, pads that extend to the biceps, neck rolls), elbow pads, lower arm padding, and a mouthpiece is required in youth leagues, high school, and college (but not in the professional leagues) to reduce the risk of concussions. All of this equipment makes a player (one who's in good shape) look like the caricature of masculinity -- large head and shoulders, narrow waist, and spandex pants that accentuate the shape of the legs.

As I mentioned, it has been argued that the pads make the players feel invincible, so they hit harder than if they were not wearing any protection (the type of tackling in football differs from that in rugby where the padding is minimal). And, as someone who has worn a football helmet, I can say that they are not very comfortable and actually make minimal collisions feel a lot worse. Additionally, they press up against your forehead in an uncomfortable manner that takes getting used to. The helmets (along with mouth pieces), however, do reduce the chance of a concussion, and the facemask protects your pretty face from getting all mashed up.

Two helmets with the classic design (left two), and one with the new Revolution design (right). Notice the additional area to the right of the earhole in the Revolution.

The modern football helmet is a combination of a plastic outer shell with soft padding (often times air cushioned) inside, and it is held on by a chin strap. The facemask is made up of metal bars coated in rubber (much like a hockey goalie's or baseball catcher's facemask). The design used by most players has been around for decades, but was not constructed to any definitive specifications to reduce the impact of a collision. That has changed with Riddell's Revolution helmet, which was designed to reduce the impact of a collision to the side of the head (the area shown to be mostly responsible for concussions). A medical study has confirmed that the new design reduces the chance of a concussion among high school football players:
"Across the three years of this initial study, the annual concussion rate was 5.4 percent in athletes wearing the Revolution helmet, compared to a 7.6 annual percent rate in athletes wearing standard helmets, representing a 2.3 percent decreased absolute risk of concussion for high school football players. In terms of relative risk, Revolution wearers were 31 percent less likely to sustain a concussion compared to athletes who wore standard football helmets."
With a more intelligent design (sorry, couldn't resist) and evidence to support its efficacy, you'd think that all players would jump at the opportunity to wear this safer helmet. In doing so you'd be forgetting about the machismo and image that go into a football player's wardrobe. Defensive backs and wide receivers (players who do a lot of running) have been known to favor playing without knee, hip, thigh, and tailbone pads because they impede movement. Many professional players don't wear mouthpieces (the single best protection against a concussion), especially quarterbacks who must bark out audibles at the line of scrimmage. It's not uncommon to see a player with his chin strap not fully buckled -- something I can only attribute to style over substance (or safety). That said, it suprises me to watch football games (collegiate and professional) and see so many players still wearing the old design when a superior (or, at least, potentially safer although definitely not more dangerous) helmet is available.

Before I start sounding too much like your mom, let me remind you to wear your mittens because it's cold outside. Now that you know more that you would ever want to know about football padding, here is this week's evolgen Random Ten:
  1. Antiflag - She's My Little Go Go Dancer
  2. The Ataris - 1-2-3-4
  3. Ol' Dirty Bastard - Shimmy Shimmy Ya
  4. Guns N' Roses - Oh My God
  5. Catch 22 - Learning the Truth
  6. No Use For a Name - Best Regards
  7. Less Than Jake - Out of the Crowd
  8. Sonic Youth - Tunic (Song for Karen)
  9. Garbage - Push It
  10. Steppenwolf - Magic Carpet Ride


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