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Helmets Have Become The NFL's WMDs

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Helmets Have Become The NFL's WMDs

Helmets Have Become The NFL's WMDs

Helmets Have Become The NFL's WMDs

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/114350746/114351002" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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I'm a football fan. In fact, a fan of Chicago Bears black-and-blue football.

But it will be hard to watch football after this week's testimony on Capitol Hill that there is what Dr. Robert Cantu of Boston University called "growing evidence that repetitive ... hits to the head of NFL players leads to degenerative brain diseases."

Politicians often hear of a problem and call for more protection. I wonder if less wouldn't be wiser.

Modern polycarbonate helmets have let players weaponize their heads.

Sports highlights usually show elegant passes and nimble runs. But on the line, 350-pound guards and tackles batter each other like rams, play after play, practice and games, year after year. The helmets that protect them actually help players block with their heads, which pummels and rattles their brains.

Maybe football should replace sleek modern helmets with the simple soft leather toppers they wore in the 1920s, just to keep Red Grange and Jim Thorpe's hair or ears from getting pulled. The threat of old-fashioned pain and dizziness might deter more head injuries than high-tech protection.

That could make American football more like rugby, which has plenty of blood, guts, beer and brass, but no helmets — or padding, for that matter.

Rugby players are proudly rowdy, and break teeth and bones. But there are apparently few reports of retired ruggers with degenerative brain disease. Rugby is a sport, while American football has become a game of chance in which players can wind up rich and broken.

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