The football helmet pictured here will not be seen on any player's head this season, but it is on lots of people's minds. An artist's composite, it represents some of the most urgent thinking in what is needed to give a player adequate protection—and such protection has never been needed more.
?Item: In Ortonville, Minn. recently, high school player Joel Brown rose from a pileup, ran 15 yards on the next play, collapsed and died an hour later. The cause: cerebral hemorrhage.
?Item: In Falls City, Texas, tackle Caspar Wiatrek lay unconscious after having had a block thrown at him, died in the hospital 6 hours later. The cause: cerebral hemorrhage.
?Item: In Nappanee, Ind., high school player Larry Slabaugh dived headfirst at the ball carrier, was rushed to the hospital when he failed to rise, died there before the game was over. The cause: hemorrhage of the soft tissue of the brain.
?Summary: With half the season still to go, 14 high school boys have died (nearly 6 more than the yearly average of 8.8 compiled since 1951), and four college players have been killed (nearly three more than the yearly average of 1.1)—all, apparently, from injuries stemming directly from the game.
These are the most tragic statistics football has known since 1947, when 14 high school deaths and one fatality among college players shocked officials, coaches and medical experts into a complete reappraisal of the safety equipment worn for the game. That was 14 years ago, and in the interim football has once again outgrown its own protective gear. "What we need," says Stanford's Jack Curtice, president of the American Football Coaches Association, "is a real study of equipment—of helmets and all the rest," to which Los Angeles State's Dr. Floyd Eastwood, the chairman of the AFCA's committee on injuries, adds: "Improvements must be made."
The most urgent improvements are needed in the helmet—three-fourths of all fatalities thus far have been due to head and neck injuries. The problem is complicated by the fact many players use their hard-shell helmets as weapons; hence, the helmet must be made not only safer for the man who wears it, but less lethal for the opposition.
Three years ago it seemed that a real breakthrough in helmet design had been made. The late Edward Dye, a nationally known safety engineer who was then associated with Cornell's Aeronautical Laboratory, developed a helmet featuring a geodetic-type suspension system. In this system the straps within the helmet were so arranged as to diffuse the force of a blow around the skull—just as if the shock was being spread around a sphere. Moreover, it held the player's head immobile when the helmet was struck, whereas in the usual sling suspension the head could—and often did—move jarringly under a blow. Dye's helmet also featured a beampad—a shock-absorbing strip of Ensolite that circled the inside of the shell horizontally, protecting against blows to the temple as few previous helmets did.
It didn't sell
Dye turned the helmet over to the MacGregor Sporting Goods Co., which had financed his research, and it was tested on the open market. It failed to sell, MacGregor says, because it was so uncomfortable that players refused to wear it. The company thereupon developed a helmet of its own that used geodetic suspension but was completely padded on the inside of the shell.