legitimate concerns from a genuine fan

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I’m far from the first person to make this observation, as former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward advocated for the same position, arguing, “If you want to prevent concussions, take the helmet off. … When you put a helmet on, you’re going to use it as a weapon, just like you use shoulder pads as a weapon.” Even former Bears coach Mike Ditka, a disciple of smash-mouth football, advocated for the sport to do away with facemasks in order to limit head injuries.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of New Hampshire found that regular helmetless tackling drills reduced the number of overall head impacts by 28 percent. Dr. Eric Swartz, who led the study, explained that “in football, there are so many head impacts because their heads are protected. … It offers a false sense of security.”

When you take away helmets and pads, you force players to instinctively protect areas of their body that they otherwise wouldn’t. Your natural instincts simply won’t let you tackle headfirst.

It’s too easy for players to use their helmets to bring down opponents, rather than making a safer, form tackle. The helmet serves as a substitute for proper technique and a surer way to create highlight hits.

I can say from personal experience that helmets and pads made me feel invincible when I played high school football. The illusion of protection brought with a soft shell of plastic allowed me to dive literally headfirst into the game. My teammates and I would compare scuffs and scratches on our helmets as if they were badges of honor. The hard crack of a helmet-crushing hit was something to celebrate, not anything to wince at.

The increasing amount of scientific evidence that links concussions or subconcussive hits with degenerative brain diseases, such as CTE, speaks to just how wrong my perception was at the time.

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