NFL’s Latest Pivot Away From Head Trauma Ruffles a Lot of Feathers

Igor Link /
Igor Link /

Hard-nose football aficionados have been losing their minds with the changes to the rules for the National Football League in the last few years. Tired of seeing the new soft tackles taking over for the hard hits of the ’70s and ’80s, then with the whining knee-taking of Colin Kaepernick, many are abandoning the league. The latest change is the decision by NFL executive vice president Jeff Miller to advocate for giant pillows on player helmets all year following a 50% drop in concussions, which could drive away even more.

Called the “Guardian Cap,” they are made of softer material with ample padding and sit on top of the player’s usual hard helmet. First introduced to the NFL in 2022, they were mandated for most positions during training camp by 2023.

In a statement to ESPN, Miller claims this is long overdue. “We now have two years of data showing significant concussion reductions among players who wear Guardian Caps during practice, so players will be permitted to wear the cap during games this upcoming season. Additionally, there are new helmets this year that provide as much — if not more — protection than a different helmet model paired with a Guardian Cap. These developments represent substantial progress in our efforts to make the game safer for players.”

For the upcoming season, the Guardian Cap won’t be a requirement, but by allowing those who want to wear them, the league will likely mandate them in the future. Typically, the NFL likes major uniformity, and customization largely gets eliminated. These pads look starkly different than the regular helmets, and that may present a problem.

As the NFL leads the way for changes to player safety in college and high school football, there is a level of responsibility to set the tone for this change. By making it a rule (eventually), the kids and their parents are less likely to resist the change coming to their local leagues, too. While saving their minds is important, pads like these also decrease the concentration on proper form as they start depending on the pad to brace their impact.