But we do seem to agree—at least somewhat—on how to reduce the number and severity of concussions in the NFL:
“If you want to prevent concussions,” said former Steelers receiver Hines Ward, “take the helmet off: Play old-school football with the leather helmets, no facemask. When you put a helmet on you’re going to use it as a weapon, just like you use shoulder pads as a weapon.”
In other words, don’t evolve. Devolve. Go back to the beginning of the ad. But early in the ad, you can see the sidelines. There’s almost no one there. “It didn’t look like much,” the announcer said. It’s only late in the ad, when the field is full of armored gladiators jackknifing over one another, that the stands are full. No one wants to watch a game that doesn’t look like much.
I don’t think that it would be too difficult to fill the stands if the game devolved in the manner that Ward calls for, and there is no showing that the stands were empty because of the type of protective equipment used in the past by NFL players. Let’s remember the main reason why the stands weren’t filled in the NFL’s youth: The NFL had a very small fan base in its infancy with many doubting that the league would exist for the long haul. College football was king back in the day, and college football had no problem filling the stands despite the fact that the players used the same protective equipment that NFL players used. Additionally, there is no reason why the game wouldn’t “look like much” if it devolved. It certainly “looked like much” to college football fans, and the NFL game sufficiently intrigued and attracted fans to expand the NFL’s fan base, and to keep the NFL around—defying the expectations of those who believed that the league would fold quickly.
Protective headgear is supposed to … well … protect the head of the person wearing the headgear. But paradoxically—as Ward indicates—it is used to encourage players to issue high-speed, violent hits (oftentimes with their heads). Players are assured that they can afford to issue those hits since they and the players they hit are allegedly protected by strong and sturdy helmets. But it may be that we can protect players better by issuing the kind of headgear the NFL used in its infancy, thus deterring players from making the kinds of hits that lead to concussions. A player is not going to be reckless with his cerebral health—or with that of other players—if he thinks that the helmet he and others are wearing will do a poor job of protecting against violent head traumas.