Parents will say that helmets are a wonderful thing. They protect the player’s brain from injury during sports. Technology to improve helmets is constantly evolving and that’s a good thing. So when did athletes start wearing extra protection for their noggin?
Helmet came from the word helm, a medieval word for protective combat headgear. Helmets have been worn in battle for hundreds of years but it wasn’t until the late 1800’s that they were considered for sports. It started with football back in 1893 when Admiral Joseph Reeves asked a local shoemaker to create a leather cap for safety. The Naval Academy football player already had a head injury and was told he may die if he was kicked in the head again.
In the 1920s, hardened leather helmets were first worn which offered even more protection. In 1939, John T. Riddell created the first plastic helmet and some time later the company added a chin strap. That design underwent many changes due to shortages during World War 2. Helmets in football were not mandatory until 1943 and the facemask requirement was added in 1962.
The first team to put a logo on their helmets was the Los Angeles Rams. It started in 1948 when Fred Gehrke, a running back, painted a horn design on the team’s helmets. That made it easier for a quarterback to see who to throw to downfield. That idea was quickly adopted by other teams.
The Riddell company carried on with helmet innovations adding air bladders to cushion impact in the 1970’s. A decade later, helmets were made from polycarbonate which made them lighter but more durable. Now NFL players can wear a chin strap that detects head injury. The strap will light up red to signal the player may have suffered a concussion. In addition, today’s smart helmets have shock detector monitors which monitor the impact a player receives. If the hit is a dangerous one, a signal is sent to the safety staff.
Football is becoming a more data driven game when it comes to preventing head injuries. All the research done in making these helmets safer has translated into better headgear for other sports and outdoor hobbies. Football will always be a violent game but with the advancement in helmet safety, players and coaches can get immediate feedback after a hit and make the right call about resuming play.