The mushroom-shaped contraption that NFL players are wearing over their helmets during practice camp may sound strange, but it’s part of an ongoing safety experiment.
And the league hopes this will lead to a reduction in head injuries.
They’re called “guard hats,” and they’re now mandatory for all 32 NFL teams until the second preseason game—that is, the time during which, according to the league, most head injuries occur.
“There is a position density and an injury density at the start of the practice camp, and the competition committee has looked at ways to change that,” said Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president for player health and safety.
The league said that, based on laboratory research, the Guardian Hat, which weighs about 12 ounces (340 grams), can reduce the severity of an impact to a player’s brain by at least 10 percent. The NFL said the number could increase by at least 20% if both players involved in the collision wore hats.
Miller felt that reducing these forces would “have a cumulative effect in improving the health and safety of the player.”
But not everyone agrees that the watchdog hat is the answer.
Chris Nowinsky, CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, said he is “beyond a doubt” that the extra padding will prevent head injuries. He also wondered whether hats could do more harm than good.
“Adding weight to a helmet can make things worse for the brain when it comes to rotational effects,” said Nowinsky, who previously served as co-director of the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. .
“Adding volume to a helmet does the same thing. It’s very difficult to recreate it in the lab. We’re not sure whether it will have a positive or negative effect.”
New York Jets coach Robert Saleh is also worried.
He asked whether players now use their heads more to hit because the caps soften the impact. They think it might be a problem after the cap is removed and the game starts with the normal helmet.
“Anyone who’s played football before knows that the first time you take it off or hit or hit your helmet there’s a ‘jerk,'” Saleh said. He said, ‘If you wait till the first match then… I don’t know. Time will tell.
“That’s the interesting thing about guard hats. What are we really trying to achieve with them?
Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Ed Oliver doesn’t see the benefit of the caps either. Philadelphia center Jason Kels also scoffed at the innovation, adding bubble wrap to his helmets, the type used to pack fragile items.
“They say guard hats add 20% protection,” Kelsey said. “I think bubble wrap will give me another 2 or 3%.”