It doesn't take a Congressional hearing to convince most Americans that football is a dangerous sport. But what if helmets, one of the best protective tools in the game, actually do more harm than good? That's what Reed Albergotti and Shirley S. Wang ask today in the Wall Street Journal. Building on recent discussion about whether NFL head injuries can lead to brain disease, the authors cite a new study noting that "brain damage isn't necessarily the result of any one trauma, but the accumulation of thousands of seemingly innocuous blows to the head." These blows, they say, have become part of the game because football players wear helmets.
The problem is that there's nothing any helmet could do to stop the brain from taking lots of small hits... Andrew McIntosh, a researcher at Australia's University of New South Wales who analyzed videotape, says there may be a greater prevalence of head injuries in the American game because the players hit each other with forces up to 100% greater. "If they didn't have helmets on, they wouldn't do that," he says. "They know they'd injure themselves."