The MacGregor helmet represented a step forward in providing safety for its wearer, but it also proved to be among the most expensive made. Perhaps because of this, it never gained widespread popularity. Moreover, many coaches feel that the Dye helmet was dropped too soon. Still others are tackling the problem from other angles—among them Frank Kavanagh, the Cornell trainer who performed the field tests for Dye.
Kavanagh's theory is that the helmet must fit the skull the way a glove fits the hand, without any suspension system at all. A new helmet of his own design is, accordingly, completely padded on the inside with a brand-new shock-absorbing material. And Kavanagh is padding the outside of the helmet as well: "All hard, rigid shells should be covered," he says. "Not only to protect opponents, but to help absorb the force of the blow to the skull of the wearer." Cornell, Kavanagh says, has been using exterior padding for years, and it has significantly decreased the number of head injuries.
Another research scientist who has definite ideas on helmet design is Dr. George Snively of Sacramento. In May of this year he published a report that was quite critical of "commercially available football helmets." Dr. Snively advocates a helmet modeled after a racing crash helmet. Such helmets, he says, are superior because 1) their shells are more rigid and 2) their interiors, padded with highly shock-absorbing foamed plastic, can absorb blows from almost any angle.
Jack Havey, director of research for Wilson Sporting Goods, has studied Dr. Snively's helmet but enters a demurrer. "I'm not denying foamed plastic is good," he says, "but it protects for only one blow. You'd have to stop the game after each impact and check the linings to see whether they'd been crushed. It wouldn't be practical." Nonetheless, Dr. Snively has tested his foamed-plastic helmet on a Hobbs, N. Mex. high school team and insists results are good. "One player who had headaches after every practice session," he says, "now doesn't suffer from them at all."
A University of Michigan neurosurgeon, Dr. Richard Schneider, has been examining other aspects of the helmet-and-injury problem. He names another culprit. The protective face guard, says Dr. Schneider, which often protrudes three inches or more, frequently is forced upward—either by an opponent grabbing it or by a stiff forearm blow. This, in turn, pushes the back of the helmet down into the neck, "causing fracture or dislocation of the vertebrae and some mangling of the spinal cord." Among Dr. Schneider's suggestions: shorten the face guard or eliminate it altogether; design a softer flap in place of the hard plastic on the back of the helmet.
University of Michigan Athletic Director Fritz Crisler, who helped Dr. Schneider prepare his report, agrees that the face guard does more harm than good. "It gives your opponent a convenient handle to grab onto," Crisler says, "and the leverage is tremendous." It was not until 1957, Crisler points out, that high schools and colleges even had a penalty for grabbing a player by the guard (the professional leagues still permit it when tackling the ball carrier).
This week, the American Medical Association's sports committee called for continuing research to improve the helmet. The net result of all the research done thus far could be a helmet like the one above, which incorporates some of the most promising new designs now under study. Just how it could be got onto the heads of players—particularly high school players who, as a rule, have the least money to spend on protective equipment—is another question, which nobody has yet studied.