NFL Players Aren't Sure About Pads for Helmets

League says protection early in the season can mitigate head injuries later
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 20, 2022 5:30 PM CDT
NFL Players Aren't Sure About Pads for Helmets
Washington Commanders running back J.D. McKissic, right, runs during practice last month with a Guardian Cap helmet on.   (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

"Obviously, they don't look pretty," an NFL defensive lineman said at training camp this week. "You feel like a bobblehead," a lineman on another team said. "They're stupid," a player on a third team said. The complaints were about the Guardian Caps the league is trying out—padded, spongy shells that go over standard-issue helmets. The NFL has made linemen, linebackers, and tight ends wear the polyurethane foam caps in practice this summer in an effort to mitigate head impacts and reduce the rate of concussions among players, the Washington Post reports. Although many players said the cap doesn't affect their play, it's been an adjustment. "When you go to tackle, it almost feels like there's a pillow on your head," said Cameron Heyward of the Steelers.

It's a joint program of the league and the Players Association, and even some players who don't like the look appreciate the effort at increasing safety. There's a reason to mandate wearing the caps this time of year, the league's chief medical officer said. "We believe that there’s a body of work to suggest that fewer blows that happen early in the year may offer a lower concussion rate later in the year as well," said Allen Sills. The NFL said Guardian Caps reduce the severity of impact if one player is wearing one by 10%, which at least doubles if two players have the padding on their helmets, per ESPN.

In addition to finding them "stupid," Shelby Harris of the Seahawks said he's concerned that the caps could affect play for the worse, per NBC News. "You might have guys that start leading with their head more because they're used to not feeling it, and don’t know they're doing it, because they have this big old helmet thing on," he said. "And then you get in the game, and next thing you know, they knock themselves out." The result over time could be an increase in head-to-head hits, he said. The NFL will collect data, Sills said, to help it decide whether to expand use of the caps in the future. (More NFL stories.)

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