As obvious as the problem may seem, continuing revelations about the troubling mental declines of some retired players—and the ongoing parade of concussions during games—have created a sense of inevitability. Pretty soon, something will have to be done. Counterintuitive, or just plain dangerous? Wall Street Journal's Reed Albergotti discusses with colleague Chaz Repak why some experts think an NFL without helmets would vastly reduce on-field injuries in American football.
But before the debate goes any further, there's a fundamental question that needs to be investigated. Why do football players wear helmets in the first place? And more important, could the helmets be part of the problem?
While football helmets have reduced the chances of death on the field, they also created a sense of invulnerability that encouraged players to collide more forcefully and more often. As the game has become more physical it's increasingly likely that players are getting hit in the head more frequently.
What everyone has forgotten is that these small collisions may be just as damaging. The growing body of research on former football players suggests that brain damage isn't necessarily the result of any one trauma, but the accumulation of thousands of seemingly innocuous blows to the head.
One of the strongest arguments for banning helmets comes from the Australian Football League. While it's a similarly rough game, the AFL never added any of the body armor Americans wear. When comparing AFL research studies and official NFL injury reports, AFL players appear to get hurt more often on the whole with things like shoulder injuries and tweaked knees. But when it comes to head injuries, the helmeted NFL players are about 25% more likely to sustain one.
Here is the full WSJ article.