Friday, November 13, 2009

Time to retire the football helmet?

Old friend and new reader of this blog (if he's still reading it) Y./TheRivers e-mailed me this WSJ story a few days ago, "Is It Time to Retire the Football Helmet?". He sent it to me because he remembers that I was awarded a worthless patent (the CAD image above is from the patent) years ago for a football helmet-related invention. From the article:

"Some people have advocated for years to take the helmet off, take the face mask off. That'll change the game dramatically," says Fred Mueller, a University of North Carolina professor who studies head injuries. "Maybe that's better than brain damage."

Mueller's right that this is an old idea. 15 years ago I wrote a paper about my invention where I mentioned some expert (it might even have been Mueller, I don't remember) advocating removing the face mask. I do remember that whoever this expert was advocated teams doing so unilaterally, and for coaches to tell their players that this way they'd have a greater field of vision (in my paper, I suggested that those who took this unilateral tack would come to grief and they would be better off using my invention).

I mentioned to Y. via e-mail that I believe there have been for years rubber shields that can be worn over the top of current helmets and that these shields reduce the impact from collisions by, if memory serves, 40%. Why they aren't worn more often, I don't know.


JK said...

Don't give up on the patent just yet. Run it by NASA and see if they're interested.

JK said...

P.S. I hope that didn't sound mean. That drawing just reminds me of an astronaut!

DaveinHackensack said...

Or an alien.

therivers said...

Still reading occasionally. :)

Has the NFL given up on the spearing rule? I don't think I have *ever* seen that called, no matter what crippling hits get laid, helmet-first.

Although I love watching football, I've been disturbed by the stories recently (like this and this) that illustrate the growing understanding of what repeated head trauma does to the human brain. I don't think it's just a matter of reducing impacts by 40%, since thousands of hits over the course of HS, College, and Pro years lead to repeated small levels of damage. Older players didn't earn the megabucks current stars do (and have little support from the league's current gilded age). Younger players might not care about the risks and would play anyway- Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, after all.

But until recently, I don't think anyone has fully grasped what kind of damage comes from so many repeated blows to the head. It's bad enough to have dementia when you're 80, but when you're 50?

DaveinHackensack said...

To get the full benefit of this blog, I recommend reading regularly ;-).

I don't spend a lot of time worrying about injuries football players suffer, to be honest. It's a brutal sport, but it has its compensations, and I don't think anyone who goes into it is ignorant about the risks.

Re spearing, I believe that is still illegal. But there are often hits where a player leads with his shoulder and the incidental helmet-to-helmet impact is still big.

I think anyone who watched Harry Carsons work as a sideline reporter on a pre-season Giants game would have some idea of the effect of repeated impacts to the head. He's a fairly intelligent, articulate guy whose short-term memory is damaged from the impacts he took as a Giants LB. The guys in the booth would seque to him and he'd forget his cues, etc., but in other situations he sounds perfectly fine.

Also, I have an issue with the old Latin quote. Even back in the old days I doubt anyone thought pro patria mori was really dulce. Decorum, perhaps, but not dulce. Decorum should be enough.

DaveinHackensack said...

BTW, Y., what is "Better Greenwood"? Or is the first rule of Better Greenwood, "Do not talk about Better Greenwood"?

therivers said...

I've gotten the full benefit before. However, I still think Ayn Rand is a hack. ;-)

Re: Spearing might still be on the books (and apparently is: Spearing is illegal, and is covered under Rule 12, Section 2, Article 8(g) in the NFL's official rulebook. The rule prohibits the use of "any part of a player's helmet (including the top/crown and forehead/"hairline" parts) or facemask to butt, spear, or ram an opponent violently or unnecessarily . . ."), but I have literally never seen it called. It's especially odd considering that the rule explicitly prohibits what is these days commonplace: leading with the helmet.

Re: Risks. I'm sure the players go into it expecting to risk some injury- bruises, sprains, broken bones. I don't think anyone goes into it realizing their risk of early-onset dementia just rose 19-fold.

BG is a neighborhood crime blog for our block/area. We have a couple of problem houses in the area and it's basically a means for the locals to share information and keep a record of nefarious activity.

DaveinHackensack said...

Re Ayn Rand,

A while back Cheryl picked up Atlas Shrugged in paperback. She made it about as far as you did. I picked it up and re-read a few pages of it when I was in the 'office' and, yeah, I don't think I'd have the patience to wade through it for the first time myself these days. No, Rand wasn't the greatest writer. Perhaps as part of her Russian patrimony she inherited the prolixity of the great Russian novelists without their eloquence.

As far as her politics, while I am somewhat sympathetic to the libertarian perspective, I don't think it makes sense in the real world* (and I have other issues with soi dissant Objectivists). Maybe my world view has shifted a little since you and I used to argue about politics over drinks, or maybe I just express things differently in the sobriety of a blog, but what I've written here on these topics may be a little different than you remember. I took a shot at libertarians (Kerry Howley, specifically) in this post, and I think this is my one post that mentions Ayn Rand: Atlas Shrugging. If you want to read a hardcore Randian, see the fellow I linked to in that post, Daniel Wahl, a former commenter here (that's another story).

*E.g., I made this point to the fellow I mentioned in the last sentence above, Daniel Wahl, that even the governments with the most right wing economic policies (e.g., Singapore) also have social safety nets (granted, theirs is more along conservative lines), because most rational people, whether they are on the right or left of the political spectrum, don't want to see sick people left to die in the streets, etc.

Re spearing, if you drew a Venn diagram of football fouls, it would be one of a few, I think, that fills the area denoting illegal strikes to the helmet. Sometimes it's called as unnecessary roughness or something else. I honestly don't remember the last time I heard a ref call "spearing", but it's not that uncommon for them to throw a flag for that sort of thing. You've got me thinking though about why I don't remember hearing "spearing" specifically...

Thanks for the explanation about BG. I didn't know you guys had bad neighborhoods there. ;-)

therivers said...

Yeah, I pretty much found her un-readable. She basically read like Nietzsche under a very thin veneer of plot. I don't know if you've read anything about the two recent books about her, but they were none too kind to her, apparently.

Doing a little googling of the spearing rule, it seems that there is a lot of confusion about that call. I thing the WSJ piece made a lot of sense: remove the helmet and players will take a lot more care of their own heads.

I would by no means say that ours is a bad neighborhood. Bad neighborhoods, as we know them in NJ, simply don't seem to exist here. It's pretty remarkable, actually. There are several "nuisance houses" locally (as they are known in the legal parlance), and we happen to live next to one of them. Mostly harmless, but worth being wary about. BTW, we recently had an arsonist running about, and 17 fires in the last two months.

DaveinHackensack said...

I read about one of those recent Rand bios in the NYT Book Review. She certainly seems to have had an eccentric personal life, to say the least, but I think it's a little ironic that critics of hers (most of whom, I assume, consider themselves feminists) seem to focus on that more than on her ideas. One would think that feminists would want a woman of ideas (however wrong-headed you might think them to be) to be judged on them and not who she slept with.

Re spearing, I read in the NYT sports section over the weekend that a DB who drilled Giants TE Kevin Boss (who has taken an absolute beating this season) with a head shot last week got fined several thousand dollars for the hit. I don't remember if the player got a flag for it during the game though. Removing helmets sound a little extreme to me. I think you could accomplish the same goal (not using the helmet as weapon) in a safer fashion by replacing current helmets with something softer on the outside. But then you'd lose that great clacking sound of the collisions.

Re lack of bad neighborhoods, Seattle is an example of what Aaron Renn termed a White City, so perhaps not that remarkable. Best of luck dealing with the arsonist though.

therivers said...

Well, they were biographies, not policy analyses.

Wish we got more Giants games here, but that's local TV markets for you. Funny you happened to mention Harry Carson earlier, as he was in the NYT Sports section talking about concussions.

The diversity or lack thereof was approximately last on the list of reasons I chose to move to Seattle. But even the "worst" parts of Seattle are nothing like Newark, Paterson, Elizabeth, etc.

DaveinHackensack said...

I actually saw that article mentioning Carsons after I wrote that comment.

Re Seattle, in your case you moved there for work (and you'd been there before, so you knew you liked the area). But one of the points Renn makes in his essay, if memory serves, is that pretty much no one actually says they moved to Seattle, Portland, etc. for those cities' ethnic make ups.

therivers said...

Even within a "white city" like Seattle, neighborhoods are very different: the northern part of the city is very white, the southern part much less so.

I skimmed the essay, but I guess I don't understand the point you're trying to make. It seems like rather a straw man argument, since most people move someplace because of work, family, or lifestyle.

DaveinHackensack said...

Lifestyle is impacted by demographics though, in terms of quality of life issues (e.g., crime/safety) and also in terms of the sort of amenities available. That helps explain why, to use a recent example mentioned on this blog, there's a pottery cafe in downtown Montclair and not in Hackensack, for example. The point I was making was that if you ask about these decisions, you'll generally find a lot more people who move to a town like Montclair who say they did so because it had things like pottery cafes, or good schools, or trendy restaurants, or whatever, than you will find people who say they moved there because of its demographics.

therivers said...

Perhaps the lack of "pottery cafes" in Hackensack might be more of an economic than a demographic issue- being unable to support such a business? With similar populations, the median income in Montclair is more than 1.6 times that of Hackensack, in spite of Bergen County having a much greater median income than Essex.

Maybe you ought to agitate for a commuter line like Montclair's :)

DaveinHackensack said...

Perhaps the lower average incomes in Hackensack might be due to its demographics? From your links, Hackensack is ~60% black and Latino, (two groups that, as you might be aware, have lower average incomes than whites or Asians) and Montclair is only ~36% black and Latino.

Hackensack already has a commuter line that goes to the PATH in Hoboken. Plus direct buses to NYC, though buses may not be stuff white people like (outside of white cities and Whitopias, that is. Judging from our bus ride downtown in Seattle, Clander's observation doesn't seem to apply to cities like Seattle).

Nick Rowe said...

Interesting idea, but I think decades of head injuries with no helmets or inferior helmets resulted in the present situation.

I recall a study done with respect to hockey. When players were asked publicly whether they wanted a rule to make helmets voluntary. The majority said no, claiming that some players would choose not to wear it and give them a playing advantage. This would result in other players taking theirs off.

But when the same question was put to a secret ballot, the VAST majority were opposed to voluntary use of helmets in favor of mandatory use.

It also reminds me of a joke I once heard from a stand-up comic. Instead of the government requiring air bags for cars, they should require a metal spike to be placed on the steering wheel. The comic said, "No one will ever speed or tailgate again."