Conversations surrounding how to lessen the frequency of head injuries in athletics have thankfully become commonplace in today’s sports media. Primarily focused on the cash cow that is college football, articles hoping to develop a plan that will ensure an inherently violent and dangerous game from rising insurance costs, player defections, and a concerned viewing public are routine.
One of the more interesting theories that have been proposed is to remove the helmets worn by football players. The idea behind this seemingly-counterintuitive suggestion is that without the headgear, tackling form will improve, spearing and using the helmet as a weapon will lessen, and collisions will not be as violent.
A significant objection to this proposal has to do with changing the established practices throughout football. Altering the culture and habits of players used to wearing headgear would be painful and difficult. Interestingly, a similar debate is taking place around women’s lacrosse, but in reverse.
Women’s lacrosse has the fifth-highest rate of concussions in high school sports according to the New York Times. The majority of these concussions stemming from hits to the head by balls and sticks, there is a debate happening in the lacrosse community regarding mandatory protective headgear, present in the men’s game but banned in women’s at the collegiate level.
Pushback against headgear is directly impacted by the football conversations mentioned before. Concern that women’s lacrosse, which does not permit contact, will become more aggressive with the addition of headgear mirrors the theory that removing helmets from football would lessen the violence of the sport.
And yet, taking the stance that a concussion-prone sport shouldn’t implement measures to reduce that risk is a tricky one. This is doubly-so with the recent ruling in a court case involving the NCAA’s role in concussion settlements. Samantha Greiber, a women’s lacrosse player at Hofstra, is proceeding with a negligence suit against the NCAA for preventing her from wearing protective headgear while a student-athlete.
This is murky territory for athletic departments. Supporting a move towards helmets in women’s lacrosse might irreversibly change the culture of the sport and create an even riskier situation than what currently exists. There is anecdotal evidence for this seen in football. On the other hand, preventing student-athletes from taking measures to lessen head trauma in a sport proven to be dangerous seems untenable as well. What is certain is that with a heightened awareness of what brain damage can mean later in life for athletes, athletic departments must be sure to be on the right side of history regarding this debate.