When you put on a football helmet, part of you feels as if you’re going to war, like some sort of gladiator about to wage hand-to-hand combat. The reality is that football is just a game, but one that comes with the risk of physical injury. That’s why the players wear football helmets.
While there is no such thing as a concussion proof football helmet, both the varsity and youth football helmets you’ll find at Gridiron Tech offer a protection level that is unprecedented. Despite the fact that football helmets have been around for nearly 120 years, it’s been only 60 years since helmets were made mandatory in the NFL and college.
Football Helmet History
Although football helmets did not become standard gear until after World War II, some pioneering players wore primitive head covering as far back as the late 1800s. The earliest versions, called “head harnesses,” were made of soft leather and were predominantly designed to cover the ears. Because the flaps on the original football helmets covered the ear completely, they were criticized for making it hard to hear. The first football helmets offering full protection of the skull and featuring holes in the earflaps were introduced between 1915 and 1917. Although the flat-top caps were still made of soft leather, they offered some suspension, rather than resting directly on the skull.
During the 20s and 30s, makers began to utilize harder leathers and some fabric cushioning for greater protection. Football helmets also began evolving from the flat-top shape, adopting more of the teardrop shape of the skull and allowing the impact of a blow to slide to one side rather than being absorbed head-on.
Birth of Modern Football Helmets
The granddaddy of helmet innovation came in 1939 when the introduced the first plastic football helmet was introduced. In addition to being stronger than leather models, the plastic helmet proved to be more durable. Shortly after the first face mask, also plastic, was added in 1940.
Despite its performance improvements, the plastic helmet did have to overcome some hurdles before it would dramatically change the game. Because plastics and other materials were scarce during World War II, many early models were not particularly well made. In fact, after Fred Naumetz of the Los Angeles Rams split nine in one season, plastic helmets were banned from the NFL.
Soon, refinements in the types of synthetics used for construction were made, and with some lobbying from coach George Halas of the Chicago Bears, plastic helmets were reinstated in 1949. The earliest molded shells still serve as models for modern energy-absorbing helmets, which feature specially molded polycarbonate plastic construction and high-tech cushioning systems.
Current Best Football Helmet Technology
About 10 years ago a new company, Xenith, was formed to create a new type of football helmet: one that could help insulate the brain from the sudden movements of the head during impact that result in concussions.
Xenith football helmets help to minimize any sudden head movement during impact by using air cells that act as shock absorbers, much the way automobile air bags protect bodies in a crash. Where standard football helmets are lined with dense padding, Xenith football helmets have air filled shock absorbers that collapse and vent air to dissipate the energy of impact. The Aware Flow Shock Absorbers react much like a bicycle pump—the harder the impact, the more pressure they resist with. The key is the adaptive response…a more optimized compression so that the head moves more gradually upon impact, and the brain should move less inside the skull.