Inside the AB Helmet Drama: Why it’s a Good Thing the NFL Got Its Way

Photo Credit: Xenith

AB might be known for getting his way (from being traded by the Steelers to today’s requested release from the Raiders), but it’s a good thing the NFL stood its ground when requiring Brown to select a new helmet for the upcoming season. The 2017 season resulted in a six-year high in concussions reported – 281 concussions. Read that again. 281 concussions in one season. In professional football, head injuries are routine and the effects experienced years later are severe. By requiring all helmets be certified by NOCSAE, the NFL is putting the players’ safety first. AB can balk all he wants, but when it comes to protecting players from severe head injuries, the NFL shouldn’t – and hasn’t budged.

He may be prone to losing his head, but Antonio Brown is resistant when it comes to losing his helmet. After nine years of wearing his signature Schutt AiR Advantage helmet, the NFL is no longer allowing him to do so. CBS Sports reported that the NFL is forcing thirty-two players to wear new helmets starting in 2019, which is part of the NFL’s safety initiative. Some of these players, including Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Alvin Kamara found new helmets and moved on, but Brown did not. It is important to note that these players’ helmet models were banned by the NFL, while Brown’s was not. The NFL argues that Brown must wear a different helmet, not because it is one of the models that was banned, but rather, because it is too old.   

The Schutt AiR Advantage model Brown was wearing was discontinued in 2014 by the company itself, the company citing that “current helmet technology had moved past it.” According to Pro Football Talk, the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) “will not certify any helmet that is more than 10 years old.” All NFL helmets must be certified by the NOCSAE. Therefore, although the NFL did not specifically ban the model Brown was using, the helmet was simply too old.

During the offseason, Brown pushed back as hard as possible, even threatening retirement if he was unable to wear the helmet he wanted. Brown stated that he was concerned about his safety, and more specifically, the visibility that the newer helmets did not provide.  On this issue, the NFL was not willing to budge and dismissed Brown’s arguments.

The 2016-2017 football season saw a 16% rise in diagnosed concussions. Former players who have suffered these head injuries are now suffering from memory and cognitive issues such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, depression, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (ETC). Put two and two together and maybe, just maybe, the NFL has other motives behind requiring safe, certified helmets, and not just the desire to irk Antonio Brown.

The NFL and NFLPA began posting the helmet testing results (see chart below) in locker rooms last season, in an effort to provide players with the information they needed to choose their safety equipment. In doing so, players educated with facts and statistics overwhelmingly complied and sought out the recommended safety equipment. At the beginning of 2018, only 41% of NFL players were wearing green labelled helmet models with another 17% wearing red labelled models. By the end of the season, 74% were wearing green labelled models with only 2% wearing red labelled ones. Players like Tom Brady chose to keep their soon to be banned models, but the NFL is only allowing a one-year grace period for these players to then switch to a safer model.

AB’s counterargument is that the newer models reduce visibility, which may increase his chances of getting hit by another player unexpectedly, resulting in increased risk of injury. Not surprisingly, Brown even threatened civil action if he incurs a head injury this season while wearing the new helmet. Brown’s argument doesn’t hold up very well when you think why Brown is making the argument in the first place. He wants to keep his ten-year-old helmet. But after ten years, the foam in the helmet is most likely cracked and hardened, not to mention subjected to other various wear and tear. At this point the helmet AB is so adamant on wearing is most likely ineffective at absorbing and distributing shock – which is the whole point of a helmet. A small change in visibility is arguably a decent trade off when compared to being hit wearing a helmet that is no longer absorbing shock.

In his post titled “An Idiot’s Guide to the Antonio Brown Helmet Grievance,” Danny Heifetz perfectly acknowledges this, stating, “Brown’s helmet offers less concussion protection than almost every other model available. After a decade of denying, obscuring, and covering up the connection between long-term brain injury and football, the NFL is trying to make the game safer (or at least give the appearance of doing so). One way is by phasing out old helmets, which were designed solely to keep players alive and not paralyzed, while newer ones check those two boxes and also reduce the risk of concussions.”

Many argue that the NFL is simply trying to limit its liability in light of recent concussion litigation. Of course the NFL is trying to limit its liability. It is also attempting to keep its players safe. These two motivations are not mutually exclusive. It’s a good thing the NFL is standing its ground and getting its way on this issue.

Even Tom Brady, who was less than thrilled about having to find a new helmet (since his current helmet has accompanied him in his last four Super Bowl appearances) recognized that he needs to do his best to work with the NFL’s requirements. At the Milken Institute Global Conference he stated:

It’s a good thing. They’re trying to find helmets the players will wear that will absorb force better. I think that’s a positive. I still wear a very old helmet, probably out of habit. You talk about behavioral changes are hard; I’ve tried new helmets and I’m like, ‘Doesn’t work, get that out of here!’ You just have to get comfortable with it.”

In light of the severe memory and cognitive issues former players who have suffered head injuries are now facing, the NFL is taking the lead on requiring helmets certified by NOCSAE. Whether you think this is simply a method of limiting liability or that the NFL genuinely cares about reducing the occurrences of head injuries, it doesn’t matter. In 2017, the league recorded 281 concussions, but just one year later, in 2018, the league recorded 214 concussions. If even one player benefits from the NFL’s helmet requirements, it’s worth players like Brown causing a ruckus.

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