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Player protection has evolved through the years

One thing that has occupied the collective mind of the sports world, especially in recent years, is injury prevention. With football season racing toward us, I tracked back into my history research for some facts on the game and the equipment used to play it.
Helmets, shoulder pads, buttocks pads, leg pads, hip pads, elbow pads, knee pads and mouth pieces are all just a few of the vital equipment that a player wears to protect against injury.
Comfort and lightness have always been an obstacle when it comes to this lengthy list. In today’s game, different companies develop products that offer a range of comfort and protection. This has not always been the case, and it is interesting to look back into the archives to take a look at equipment of the past and how it has influenced the equipment of today.
Football pads were first introduced in 1877 by L.P. Smock, a player at Princeton University. His version of pads was made from quilt-like material that was stuffed and sewn into the undersides of his jersey. His invention would become known as the first version of shoulder pads in football.
The football helmet made its first appearance in 1893, during a game between Army and Navy. Oddly enough, the helmet offered no padding and had slits for the nose, eyes and mouth. It was designed to protect only the ears of the players.
In the 1890s, Spalding and Victor became the leaders in protective football equipment. Both companies introduced a system that added padded protection on the outside of the uniform. Hip, thigh and knee pads were also introduced to protect the player’s lower extremities.
This basic pants design has not changed much over the course of the years and is essentially the same.
Leather helmets came into use in 1915, and like the previous helmets, there was virtually no padding. They included a small side cushion on the inside that helped protect the ears, but the helmet was a failure and useless.
In 1939, John T. Riddell Company introduced a hard, molded leather helmet that offered more cushion and padding to the players head, and in 1940 the chinstrap was created. But it had no purpose other than helping keep the helmet on.
Helmets were not mandated by the NFL or NCAA during this period, and players were given the option to wear the helmet or not. Many players opted out of wearing the helmet and leaned to comfort.
In 1943, the NFL required all players to wear helmets due to increased injuries, and in 1949 hard-plastic helmets were adopted.
The adoption of the helmets became a nightmare. Players began to use the helmets as weapons instead of a piece of protective equipment. It was not uncommon to witness a player belted with a thrown helmet or for players to use them to drive head-first into their opponents with intent to injure.
Facemasks were added in 1953 by Riddell to help aid in the problem, and by 1962 all players were required to wear facemasks.
During the mid-1900s, penalties began to be levied in order to prevent major safety issues that were taking place on the field. (In 1956, the NFL created the “facemask” penalty, which banned the grabbing a player’s facemask.)
Equipment continued to change throughout the years, and in 2002 a synthetic material designed for NASA was added to pads to make them lighter and more comfortable, while keeping player protection key.
In 2005, the University of Florida created a pad system that allowed players to connect to an air-pump. This offered ventilation within the pads of players in humid southern climates.
Concussion protocol began to take the front seat, and special rules and penalties were created to help protect players from head-to-head contact. In 2013, a targeting penalty was created in order to aid in the prevention of intent of injuring another player.
In 2014, football helmets were subjected to concussion testing, and the Adams A2000 helmet tested the best in preventing concussions but was rated the worst in closed head injuries. The Riddell 360 ranked as the best against overall closed head injury.
The 360 features no screws above the forehead, providing for more flexibility.
Riddell has continued in recent years to provide more concussion-proof helmets and has become the leader in football helmet safety.
As the years continue, I am excited to see what changes are to come in player protective equipment.