History of Head Gear: The Evolution of Safety in Sports

Admiral Joseph Reeves, who played football for the U.S. Naval Academy in 1893, is the first player to wear protective head gear during a game. Doctors told him he risked certain death if he was kicked in the head one more time. Determined to continue playing, he went to a local shoemaker who designed a leather helmet so he could play in the Army/Navy game that week. The next seven decades would see football helmets continually evolve to minimize the long-term brain damage caused by concussions.

Football has come a long way from its early days, as has every other sport, when it comes to protecting the players from serious head trauma. No amount of equipment can make a player invulnerable, but it can certainly mitigate the extent of injuries.

Padded Caps for Baseball Pitchers

On August 7, Miami Marlins pitcher Dan Jennings threw a 93 mph pitch that Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer turned into a screaming line drive that struck Jennings at 101 mph in the side of his head, reports MLB.com. Jennings was diagnosed with a concussion and is unlikely to play the rest of the season. What happened to Jennings is extremely rare, but MLB tested two different protective systems for pitchers. Most pitchers say they will not wear the hat because its uncomfortable, hot, and likely wouldn’t help if they were unfortunately struck by a line drive.

Hockey Evolution

On Jan. 13, 1968 professional hockey player Bill Masterson was checked hard by Oakland Seals players Larry Cahan and Ron Harris. His head smashed against the ice, fracturing his skull. He died 30 hours later. He is the only player in NHL history to die on the ice as a direct result of injuries sustained during a game, according to TSN Canada. Of course Masterson, like most other NHL players at the time, was not wearing a helmet. The NHL finally made helmets mandatory for anyone who signed a contract after June 1, 1979.

Motorsport Helmet Progression

Motorcycle helmets did not become mainstream until after the death of T.E. Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia, in 1935. The highly decorated British World War I soldier was thrown over the handlebars of his motorbike when he swerved to avoid two bicyclist. He fractured his skull as a result and died six days later, noted the BBC. Sir Hugh Cairns, the neurosurgeon who worked on Lawrence, began studying the connection between crashes and head trauma. His research led to crash helmets being mass produced and evolving to the amazing technology they are now.

The NFL concussion settlement that will compensate former players who suffer medical issues due to concussions will keep helmet technology in the news for the foreseeable future. No helmet or head gear can 100 percent protect the human brain from trauma. But doctors and scientists will continue their quests to make our favorite sports as safe as possible for the players.

Author: TSC Guest

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