As part of an ongoing safety experiment to reduce head injuries, NFL players have been wearing mushroom-like contraptions on their helmets during training camp.
Due to the increase of head injuries during the second preseason game, all 32 NFL teams will now be required to wear “guardian caps.”
Jeff Miller, executive vice president for NFL player health and safety, said, “There’s a density of exposure, and a density of injury, at the beginning of training camp, and the competition committee has been looking for ways to change that.”
According to laboratory research, the 12-ounce Guardian Caps lessen the severity of a blow to a player’s head by at least 10%. If both players engaged in a collision are wearing them, it claims that the percentage increases to at least 20%.
Miller said mitigating those forces “will have a cumulative effect for the betterment of health and safety of the player.”
The four head coaches on the NFL Competition Committee – Frank Reich, Ron Rivera, Mike Tomlin and Mike Vrabel – recommended players wear Guardian Caps this training camp.
Here’s why, in their own words. pic.twitter.com/kJC6Wzyj52
— NFL (@NFL) July 29, 2022
However, not everyone believes Guardian Caps are the solution.
The Concussion Legacy Foundation’s co-founder and CEO, Chris Nowinski, is “more than a little skeptical” that the additional padding helps avoid head injuries and questions whether it might be doing more harm than good.
“Adding weight to a helmet can make things worse for the brain when it comes to rotational impacts,” said Nowinski.
“Adding size to the helmet does the same thing. It’s very difficult to recreate this in a lab. We aren’t sure if this will be a net positive or negative.”
Robert Saleh, the coach of the New York Jets, is likewise concerned.
He questioned whether the Guardian Caps, which cushioned the blow, are causing players to use their heads more. He believes this could become a problem once the caps are removed and the actual games start.
“Anyone who’s played football before knows that the first time you take those (caps) off, or you hit with your helmet, or you have a collision, there’s a shock,” Saleh said. “If you’re waiting until the first game for that shock to happen, I think it’s… I don’t know. Time will tell.”
He added, “It’s just interesting with those Guardian Caps, and what exactly are we trying to accomplish?”
Both Ed Oliver of the Buffalo Bills and Jason Kelce of the Philadelphia Eagles don’t see the benefit of the caps either.
The padded shells, according to Oliver, “aggravate” him and make him feel like “a bobblehead” on the field.
“It’s just heavy,” Oliver said. “I like the way my helmet feels without it. I have been playing without it for this long. I just don’t like it.”
Eagles player Kelce showed up to practice with bubble wrap on his helmet for extra cushion.
“They say the Guardian Caps add 20 percent protection,” Kelce said. “I figure the bubble wrap gave me another 2 or 3” percent.
Even though some players feel the Guardian Caps look odd, Miller said the feedback has been positive.
“I wouldn’t say they’re aesthetically pleasing, and I think we look a little goofy,” said Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert. “But they’re there for good reason. They did studies with them. Anything to keep us safer, why not do it?”
He said, “Obviously, you only get one brain. May as well keep it as best you can.”
Tennessee Titans tackle Taylor Lewan added, “Honestly, at first I was like, ‘What a stupid looking thing. This is the dumbest looking thing I’ve ever seen.’ But honestly, I’m not gonna lie; it’s kind of nice.”
For years, there has been an increase in safety worries about brain injuries in the NFL.
According to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, CTE, also known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, has been discovered in the brains of over 300 former athletes. Several athletes, including Junior Seau, Andre Waters, and Jovan Belcher, committed suicide before it was found that they had the degenerative brain condition linked to frequent head trauma.
There were 187 concussions during practices and games in 2021, the league reported in February.
In light of the data provided to them by lab researchers, the NFL’s competition committee required that offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers, and tight end players who experience the most head impacts during practice wear the Guardian Caps this summer.
It can be challenging to predict Guardian Caps’ future.
According to Miller, the players’ comments and whether the data acquired from the Guardian Caps indicates a decrease in head injuries will largely determine the course of action moving forward.
Ron Rivera, head coach of the Washington Commanders, is already certain that Guardian Caps may become the standard in the NFL.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point it’s going to be mandated through OTAs and minicamp,” said Rivera, a former linebacker with the Bears. “If this really helps reduce (head injuries), then I’d imagine we would continue” to use them.