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Helmet-Free Practice Could Improve Football Safety, Some Researchers Say

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With a multi-million dollar lawsuit settled by the NFL and numerous stories of injured athletes in the news, the past few years have seen a significant increase in awareness about traumatic brain injuries and the need for improving safety protocol and procedures at all levels of football. Among the many suggested and implemented changes made to protect athletes on the field, few people have given much thought to helmets other than them being a necessity or searching for ways to make them function better. According to new research, however, we may be looking at it all wrong – not wearing helmets could actually help improve safety in football.

Although they’re making a bold statement, researchers led by Erik Swartz of the University of New Hampshire said that practicing without helmets and shoulder pads could help reduce head injuries in practice and games by conditioning players to not lead with their heads. As many experts note, leading with one’s head is often the cause of many traumatic hits, and numerous concussions or chronic injuries that may result in debilitating conditions later in life.

As part of the study, researchers observed two groups of 25 Division 1 football players as they performed various tackling drills with and without helmets and shoulder pads during preseason and during the regular season. Here’s some of the most striking results they found:

  • Sensors placed on players and their helmets found that players in the group who performed drills without helmets had 30% less head impacts per practice and game than the other group.
  • Head impacts per practice and game reduced steadily throughout the season for athletes in the helmetless group – beginning the year at 14 and ending at roughly 10.

At The Daspit Law Firm, we have worked with many brain injuries victims, and know full-well how these catastrophic injuries can change lives. Although the results of the first study are encouraging, researchers have stated that there is still much to learn. Even so, the initial test could lead to the eventual development of a practice program that protects athletes from the devastation of head injuries and improves safety at all levels of play.

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