San Francisco 49ers co-chair Dr. John York said he believes helmets could eventually be banned from the sport of football.
"Can I see a time without helmets? Yes," York said in an interview with the BBC. "It's not around the corner, but I can see it."
York is the chair of the NFL’s health and safety advisory committee. He is also a member of the league's international committee.
The NFL is trying to change the culture of football from using the helmet as a weapon for administering highlight-reel hits to legislating the head out of accepted tackling fundamentals.
There is no indication the league has conducted any serious conversations at this point about the possibility of removing of helmets from the sport to shift more toward rugby or Australian rules football.
In an interview at the NFL owners meetings in May, York pointed to statistics that reveal concussions are down from previous seasons. He said he believes football has gotten more safe in recent seasons.
[REWIND: Dr. John York: Football has gotten safer]
Concussions are down 36 percent over the past two seasons, York said. Last season, there were 0.46 diagnosed concussions per game, York said. Helmet-to-helmet hits are down close to 50 percent during that same period, he said.
“There is a culture change,” York said. “Coaches understand that, and the majority of players understand that. So there has been change. Those are the things that can be done without the long-term research.”
The health concerns of players had a major impact on the 49ers this offseason. Offensive lineman Anthony Davis, 25, and linebacker Chris Borland, 24, cited concerns from the long-term effects of head trauma for walking away from the sport.
In the interview, York said in order for the NFL to eventually ban helmets, plays could no longer begin with linemen in three-point stances, which forces the players to lead with their heads. Players would have to begin each play in more of an upright position, York said.
The NFL first required all players to wear hard-leather helmets in 1943. The league officially adopted plastic helmets in 1949. In 1955, single-bar facemasks were added to helmets.