By Tyler Lemco
If you show up to a party with brass knuckles, people are going to assume you’re there to fight. If you show up with a gun, they’re going to assume you’re there for some serious trouble. Moreover, if you show up in a tank, people are going to panic and attack by finding their biggest and most dangerous weapons to hit you with, because to them, you seem overly prepared. Now, take that concept and apply it to football.
There’s a reason that rugby players suffer significantly less injuries than football players. There aren’t all that many differences between the two sports (ok ok, calm down all you furious die-hards out there… they’re a lot more alike than football and badminton). Yet, despite their similarities, football seems to have way more injuries, way more concussions, and way more long lasting effects on the body post-career. The only conceivable explanation for this disparity, other than “maybe they don’t hit as hard over there”, is the padding.
Rugby players wear a relatively thin protective head garment, not dis-similar to an amateur boxing helmet, and that’s pretty much it. Maybe a cup and some shin guards for good measure, but that’s all. Football, on the other hand, has their players dressed up like a bunch of Iron Mans. Every player on the field has special pads for their head, their shoulders, their thighs, their hips, and their butts. Then there’s the addition back protectors, shin protectors, neck protectors, knee braces, visors, face cages, forearm pads, padded gloves, and about 14 rolls of medical tape per player.
Players are so wrapped up in padding in football that they give off the notion that they’re indestructible. Therefore, opposing players can hit them as hard as they want, because they’re protected. In rugby, that’s a human’s flesh and bones you’re barreling into. In football, it’s just a faceless pile of pads in a helmet. Go ahead, you may as well ram that player with a mini-van.
Aside from appearing indestructible to the competition, these players start believing that they themselves actually are. A football player who’s draped in protective equipment will be more likely to throw caution to the wind. Sword fighting is a lot less strenuous in a suit of armor than in some shorts and a jersey. Players are constantly launching themselves at one another, risking injuries by diving on impossible attempts and careening into people. A lot of players even have a tendency of leading in to a tackle helmet-first. That’s like lowering your head and running straight in to a brick wall. It’s so unfathomably dangerous, but the logic is “hey, I’m wearing a helmet therefore I won’t get hurt.” Wrong.
Just like seatbelts, pads can be just as dangerous as they are preventative. Obviously, they’re meant to protect the person’s body that is sporting it, but at the end of the day, these are hard, rigid, pieces of plastic and metal that can do an immense amount of harm to the body. The word “padding” doesn’t mean it’s made of pillows and marshmallows. These things are flat out painful.
Finally, let’s put injuries and safety aside for a second and just look at the sheer amount of entertainment that pads detract from the sport. Do you have any idea how hard it is to jump and catch a football with shoulder pads on? Or how difficult it is to see your surroundings when you’re wearing a large helmet with a facemask? These pro guys make it look easy, but playing football in full equipment is vastly different than playing pick-up at the park. If pro guys were less restricted, less weighed-down, and able to move around and see things more freely, then they’d be able to maximize their talents and the amount of miraculous catches and highlight-plays we’d see would explode. The sport would inarguably become more fun to watch.
In all, pads do a whole lot to take away from the sport of football and make it more dangerous than it needs to be. This is a classic case of over-thinking and over-protecting the athletes to the extreme that it actually is doing the opposite of what it’s intended to. If we really want to protect these guys and have them play a safer game out there on the field, then less is actually more.
Tyler is a fan of the San Antonio Spurs and the Baltimore Ravens. He is a writer from Montreal, Canada and enjoys cheeseburgers, sports, music, and double cheeseburgers. Follow him on Twitter and every other social media @tlemco