Last weekend there was a spate of viscous helmet driven hits in the NFL, which has led to a huge debate on the safety of players, concussion, and punishment for the defenders making the hits.

What I’ve never really understood with the NFL is why they wear rock hard helmets in the first place. Other than for show - and there’s no denying it is an awesome sight to see the two sides lined up in full body armour - they are the cause of much of damage being talked about. Helmets protect players from other helmets. Take the helmet out of the equation, and isn’t the game instantly much safer?

The Wikipedia history of the helmet doesn’t really explain why it went from a leather cap to a hard weapon-like shell. The various Australian Rugby codes and the AFL are just as lethal in terms of body contact, but they protect the head very carefully by game law and hefty punishment for infringers. 

As one writer to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King asked:

“In the violent game of rugby, players are not allowed to hit an opponent above the shoulders during a tackle. The price for violating this rule: ejection and the violator’s team plays one man down. The NFL would be significantly less dangerous if it adopted this rule and consequence.”

Exactly. Strangely King seems to think it’s not a rule that would get implemented:

I doubt this will ever come to be, but it is really an interesting concept, particularly playing one man down the way it’s done in some other sports. I know how big a factor it is on the World Cup stage.

He likes the yellow/red card idea, but not the basic and more effective “No tackling above the shoulders.” Strange.