Helmet Wars in the NFL Put Spotlight on Equipment Rules

Who would have thought NFL rules designed to make it safer to play football would end up in the headlines because two major stars would rather not be safe than switch? At least that’s the takeaway from the controversy this week surrounding New England patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Oakland Raiders receiver Antonio Brown, both of whom aren’t happy with having to give up their old, now illegal helmets.

Those two, along with a handful of other NFL players, are having to adjust to new helmets — whether they want to or not. The NFL and NFL Players Association have banned the use of some older model helmets this season to improve player safety. That means some of the league stars like Brady, Brown and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers are forced to make the switch. According to a CNN report, as of the final week of the 2018 season, 32 players (less than two percent of total players) still wore one of the prohibited helmets.

"I've been experimenting with a couple different ones, and I don't really love the one that I'm in, but I don't really have much of a choice," Brady said in his Monday interview this week with radio station WEEI. "So I'm just trying to do the best I can to work with it."

"You get used to the same helmet for a long period of time," Brady, starting his 20th season as the New England Patriots quarterback, said. "My last helmet, I wore it the last four Super Bowls, so it was a pretty great helmet for me. I hated to put it on the shelf. It's kind of what I'm dealing with."

Players aren't allowed to play or practice unless they have approved helmets, so Brown decided not to practice for a while because he wanted to use the same helmet he's worn his entire career. He took his case to an arbitrator, who was jointly approved by the NFL and the players' union. The ruling went against Brown, forcing his head — er, hand.

"While I disagree with the arbitrator's decision, I'm working on getting back to full health and looking forward to rejoining my teammates on the field," Brown said in a tweet. (His helmet challenge is separate from his frozen toes problem, but that’s a story for another newsletter.)

Meanwhile, CNN reports that Brown is continuing his quest for the right helmet. "I'm looking for a Schutt Air Advantage Adult Large Helmet that was manufactured in 2010 or after,” he tweeted earlier this week.