As we start football season, I recalled a picture that I had seen among my mom’s old family pictures. It was a football practice session most likely at a local school. That reminded me of something I had read a while back about the changes in football gear over the years. As we all know, football can be a dangerous game. Sometimes, the players are hurt slightly and sometimes, quite badly. Unfortunately, it was those injuries that have founded the need for better protection, and therefore, better gear. When American football appeared on college campuses in the 1870’s little was known about the brain damage that could occur from some of the impacts that are a natural part of the game.
In those early years, head protection was rarely worn. As far back as the 1900’s, they had the “head harness” which was a soft leather version of today’s helmet, but it was mainly to protect the ears. I suppose it did, but it also made it difficult to hear, so not many players wore them. Newer versions of the helmet appeared as the years went by, featuring holes for the ears, so they could hear the plays and movement around them. They were made out of plastic, and featured a suspension system to keep the helmet from sitting directly on the player’s head. This also provided a little bit of cushion for their head. Of course, we now know that those older versions did not provide enough protection from concussion, and the newer versions probably don’t do enough either, but they are much better than their predecessors.
In the early years, players were subjected to ridicule for putting padding in all the necessary areas that we now know need protection. It was treated as…well, wimpy back then. Now plastic is a part of shoulder pads and pants. It isn’t a perfect solution, but the key here is to keep the players in the game, if possible, because we all know that one of the best things about fall is football…to some people anyway.