The chair of the NFL’s health and safety advisory committee said he views the helmet as ideally part of the solution, not part of the problem, in the quest for prevention of head injuries in the sport.
John York, co-chairman of the 49ers, told CSNBayArea.com he has never seriously considered a future NFL that does not include helmets, despite comments attributed to him last week in an interview with the BBC.
[REWIND: York envisions football without helmets]
“I believe the helmet in American football is so clearly a part of our tradition and culture that it’ll always be there,” York said.
But a shift in culture of the sport also includes the designing and usage of helmets as pieces of protective equipment -- not as instruments to deliver big hits on opponents, potentially subjecting both players to injuries.
“I don’t want to be so emphatic that I don’t recognize that the helmet has also caused problems by being used as a potentially aggressive weapon,” York said. “That’s why the rule changes have been made to try to take the helmet or the head out of the game -- not take the helmet off.
“We do believe the helmet adds a degree of safety in terms of any kind of a skull fracture. And we also believe it does (add safety), as regards to concussions. But we are really looking scientifically and from an engineering standpoint at helmets and seeing if there is a better way to evaluate helmets than what we do today, as well as to develop the potential of a helmet that would be safer for all players.”
According to York, there has been a 52-percent decrease in the number of illegal helmet-to-helmet hits over the past three seasons, which he believes is a big reason there has been a 36-percent decrease in the number of reported concussions in the NFL.
“And we’ll continue to emphasize that strongly,” York said.
No team in the NFL this offseason felt the impact of the growing concern over the long-term effects of head trauma than the 49ers. Linebacker Chris Borland, 24, and right tackle Anthony Davis, 25, cited the inherent risks to their heads as reasons for stepping away from the sport.
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“When that information is building, people are going to take that information and react it. There will be players like Chris who decide that perhaps football is not the way he wants to go,” York said.
Borland sustained no documented concussion as a rookie. Davis, who also missed time last season due to shoulder, hamstring and ankle injuries, sat out four games late in the season due to lingering effects from a concussion. Davis stated he planned to return to professional football after a year or more.
“All of those things are things that organizations are going to have to deal with in this new world where concussions play such a large part of the game and the thought process of the individual players,” York said.
He said his positions on the heath and safety committee and with the 49ers do not pull him in opposing directions.
“I don’t think there’s a gap in the way I look at it as the co-chairman of the 49ers versus being on the health and safety committee,” York said. “I was surprised about Chris Borland’s decision with the 49ers. But I was also surprised on the health and safety committee. But in both respects, I believe Chris has the right to make that decision and I’m not going to try to talk him out of it. There were discussions with some of the doctors to make sure he understood certain things, but his mind was made up and we would support that.”
The health and safety committee regularly discusses the evidence from analyzing injury data. The committee works with the competition committee, which can suggest rules changes.
The NFL’s handling of concussions -- and the protocols for returning to action -- in many ways shapes the conversation and standards in dealing with head injuries beyond the football field.
“Concussions are not just a part of the National Football League or of American football,” York said. “We probably have the most number of concussions with slip and falls in the general public and anything related to a wheel or a horse has a very high incidence of concussions. That’s not to try to push off something to someone else because we are taking it very seriously.
“But there is an awful lot of good that comes out of playing sports, in terms of teamwork, discipline, working together with others to make something happen, being organized and scheduling your time and many, many other aspects. When you’re talking about the risks, there are also great rewards to playing sports at every level.”