Focus on the Head and NOT the Helmet

At the recent NFL owners meeting, an important rule change was adopted; a player will no longer be able to lower his head and initiate contact.  While the exact details of this rule change still need to be worked out and we will have to wait and see how it is enforced, it is a step in the right direction.  Football is a violent, dangerous sport which will never be made safe.  This rule, however, is a step toward making football safer.

My concern is not about the rule, but how the discussion and debate about this rule change is being framed.  Time and time again, I have heard sports analysts and other “talking heads” talk about how the players use their helmet.  They talk about a player lowering his helmet in any number of situations; they talk about how the player is using his helmet.  This is NOT about the helmet! This issue is about the player’s head and more specifically it is about his brain.

If I put on a glove and started trying to pound a nail into a plank of wood, no one would say, “Stop using your glove that way.”  That would sound ridiculous and indeed it would be a ridiculous statement.  Of course, what someone would say would be something more like, “Stop using your hand that way; stop using it as a tool.”  So, why when a football player at any level lowers his head and initiates contact with another player do we talk about how he is using his helmet.  Forget about the helmet, he is using his head and that has potentially catastrophic consequences.  The so-called experts do every current and future football player at every level a disservice by talking about the helmet and not talking about the head and brain. Talking about the helmet instead of the head softens the discussion; concussions are serious business and the dialogue needs to be serious and tough. 

My hope is we keep the focus on making the great game of football safer and on protecting the head (and brain) of the players.

--- Dr. Noles is a sports psychologist and has been working with serious athletes, from high school through the professional ranks, for over 20 years.  He is a member of the Association for Applied Sports Psychology and the National Association for Sports Psychologists.  

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Steven W. Noles, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist & Certified Sports Psychologist