What is the Definition of Helmets in American Football?

The helmet in American football serves a crucial role in ensuring the safety and protection of players on the field. As a basic equipment in the sport, these helmets are designed to safeguard against skull fractures and significant brain injuries that might occur during the rough and high-impact nature of the game. Constructed from a durable and shock-absorbent material called molded polycarbonate, these specially-designed helmets are built to withstand both powerful hits and extreme temperatures.

Dating back to their early beginnings, football helmets have undergone numerous changes and improvements over the years. Modern technology and research have led to innovations in their design and manufacturing process, with a primary focus on optimizing player safety while maintaining a high level of comfort and practicality. With a variety of different styles and types available, football helmets can cater to the specific needs of individual players, including compatibility with certain age groups and skill levels.

Key Takeaways

  • Helmets in American football provide critical protection against severe head injuries
  • Made from molded polycarbonate, these helmets are designed to endure high-impact situations
  • Ongoing developments in helmet technology and design contribute to enhanced safety and performance for players

History of Helmets in American Football

In the early days of American football, players did not wear helmets. It wasn’t until 1888 when the college football rules convention voted to allow tackling below the waist, that players and coaches began to regard protective gear as essential for the game. However, helmets were one of the last pieces of equipment to be accepted.

The first helmets were made from soft leather, which offered some protection but were not very effective in preventing injuries. As the sport evolved and became more physical, the need for better protection grew. In the 1930s, inventors began experimenting with plastic materials for helmets, but due to plastic shortages, these were not widely used in the NFL until after World War II.

Over the years, the design of football helmets has evolved significantly. Early leather helmets, also known as “leatherheads,” were eventually replaced by hard plastic shells with padding inside. Face masks were introduced in the 1950s to protect the players’ faces, and by the 1980s, the modern football helmet, complete with a polycarbonate shell and full-face mask, had taken shape.

The National Football League (NFL) constantly looks for ways to improve player safety, so helmet technology and design continue to develop. Today’s helmets are equipped with advanced padding materials, ventilation systems, and even communication devices. The constant innovation in helmet design not only keeps players safe but also contributes to the overall advancement of the sport.

In conclusion, the history of helmets in American football has been marked by a steady progression towards improved safety and technology. From humble beginnings with soft leather caps to the advanced gear used today, the helmet remains a critical piece of equipment in the high-impact sport of football.

Helmet Components


The shell is the outermost component of an American football helmet. It is primarily designed to protect the player’s head by absorbing and dispersing impact forces. Most football helmets are made from a durable and strong polymer called polycarbonate. This material is selected for its ability to absorb significant impacts while remaining lightweight enough to not hinder the players’ performance.

Face Mask

The face mask is an essential part of a football helmet, as it protects the player’s face, particularly the eyes, nose, and mouth. In American football, face masks are generally made from coated steel bars. The configuration and style can vary, but the goal is to provide maximum visibility, breathability, and protection for the player’s face during gameplay.

Chin Strap

The chin strap contributes to a secure fit and helps keep the helmet in place during contact. It is primarily made of durable and adjustable webbing, secured to the helmet with buckles or snaps. The chin strap ensures that the helmet remains in its proper position and is essential for maintaining the integrity of the helmet’s protective capabilities.


Padding is a critical element of a football helmet, providing comfort and additional protection. Foam padding within the helmet is easily adjustable, which allows for a customized fit for each player. Padding not only cushions the head, but it also effectively disperses and absorbs impacts, reducing the risk of injury during a collision. Different football helmets may use varying types and densities of padding, offering specific advantages to players based on their position and the intensity of the game.

Different Types of Helmets

American football helmets are a crucial piece of protective equipment, designed to safeguard players from head injuries during the rough and tumble of the sport. There are several types of helmets used at various levels of play, with each specifically tailored to the needs and safety requirements of the players. In this section, we’ll explore some of the major types of football helmets.

Vicis 02 & 01 are among the top choices for NFL players. VICIS helmets emphasize safety and performance, with their cutting-edge technology focused on reducing the force of impacts. The VICIS 01 was the first model introduced to the market, followed by the improved VICIS 02, which boasts an enhanced fit and additional refinements.

The Riddell Speedflex is another popular helmet choice among professional and college football players. It is designed with flexibility in mind, featuring a unique cutout shell that allows for better impact absorption. This helmet also provides optimal comfort with its adaptive fit system and customizable padding options.

Xenith Shadow XR provides an innovative design that aims to reduce the risk of concussions. Its patented shock absorption system is meant to disperse energy upon impact, mitigating the effects on the player’s head. This helmet also offers a lightweight and comfortable fit, making it a popular choice among players at various levels.

Lastly, the Schutt F7 UR1 is a helmet known for its advanced safety features, such as TPU cushioning, which has been proven to absorb more impact than traditional foam padding. A distinctive feature of the Schutt F7 UR1 is its strategically placed Tektonic plates that help to distribute force away from the player’s head during impacts.

In addition to these major types, football helmets are also classified based on their hardshell or softshell design:

  • Hardshell helmets are the most common type, offering a higher level of protection and durability due to their rigid outer shell. They are typically used in tackle football, where impact forces are higher, and player safety is paramount.
  • Softshell helmets are more suitable for lighter forms of the sport, such as flag football or touch football, where the risk of high-impact collisions is lower. These helmets prioritize comfort and flexibility, allowing for a greater range of motion for the player.

Ultimately, the choice of helmet depends on the specific needs and preferences of the player, as well as the level of protection required for their chosen position and style of play. Regardless of the type, a well-fitted and certified helmet is essential for players at all levels to ensure their safety on the field.

How a Helmet Protects Players

Impact Absorption

A football helmet is designed to protect players from head injuries by absorbing and dispersing forces experienced during impacts. The outer shell is made of a hard, durable material, usually polycarbonate, which provides a barrier against direct blows. Inside the shell, a padding system with foam and air-filled cushions dissipates the force of collisions and lessens the impacts felt by the player’s head.

Fit and Comfort

Proper fit and comfort are essential to the effectiveness of a football helmet in protecting players. The helmet should be snug but not overly tight, allowing for the right size and shape for the individual player’s head. Adjustability and cushioning in the liner and padding system help to ensure a secure fit. Additionally, chin straps and other securing mechanisms keep the helmet in place during play, further enhancing the helmet’s safety features.

Helmet Safety Standards and Testing


The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) is responsible for establishing safety standards for football helmets. NOCSAE helmet performance standards are based on accepted and recognized scientific and medical data. Their standards help ensure that football helmets provide adequate protection to players during high-impact collisions on the field. To receive NOCSAE certification, helmets must pass a series of tests including drop impact testing, which evaluates the helmet’s ability to withstand force and absorb impact energy.

Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings

The Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings is another important resource in evaluating football helmet safety. Developed by Virginia Tech University, the ratings are based on a comprehensive study of helmet performance in real-world collisions. The system uses a star rating, with five stars indicating the best possible helmet performance. This assessment considers factors such as linear and rotational acceleration, which are critical for understanding how well a helmet may protect a player from a concussion or other head injuries.

Using these sets of safety standards and testing methods, manufacturers in the American football industry are continuously working to improve helmet designs and technology. In turn, this helps ensure that players have access to the most effective protection available to reduce the risk of head injuries on the field.

Maintenance and Proper Use

A helmet in American Football is a crucial piece of safety equipment designed to protect a player’s head from injuries. To ensure its effectiveness, proper maintenance and fitting are essential.

Firstly, it is important to have the right football helmet size for the player. An ill-fitting helmet can be ineffective and put the player at a higher risk of injury. Always refer to the manufacturer’s fit guidelines to find the correct helmet size and make necessary adjustments.

Inspect the helmet regularly for any signs of wear or damage. Common issues to look out for include loose valve caps, missing or broken chin strap clips, face mask clips, damaged air bladders, missing Quick Release pins, and broken Strap-Loc pieces. It is recommended that all programs keep a helmet accessory kit on hand for quick and easy repairs.

Another critical aspect of helmet maintenance is the reconditioning process. Reconditioning facilities store helmets in a climate-controlled room. Face masks and interior pads are reinstalled, helmets are repainted, and all decals are placed back on the helmets. Additionally, helmets are buffed, polished, and sanded to create a smooth exterior surface. They are then washed in hot pressurized water to remove dirt and sweat from the previous season and ensure a sanitary condition for the next season.

In American Football, players are prohibited from using helmets as weapons. It is a foul if a player lowers their head and makes forcible contact with the crown of the helmet against any part of an opponent’s body. Violating this rule can result in penalties and even disqualifications.

In summary, maintaining a football helmet through proper fitting, regular inspection, and reconditioning is essential for player safety. Complying with the rules regarding helmet use can prevent injuries and penalties.

Future Innovations and Improvements

The NFL Helmet Challenge has inspired many cutting-edge innovations to improve player safety in American football. One example is the optimization of helmet space through computer modeling, which has led to the development of new materials and novel structural designs. These advancements aim to provide better protection and reduce the risk of concussions among players.

Another promising innovation in football helmet technology is Riddell’s Axiom, a breakthrough helmet design that features a new fitting system, a redesigned helmet shell platform, and a reimagined face-mask system. The Axiom also integrates smart helmet technology called InSite, which analyzes and reports on head impact exposure (HIE) compared to Riddell’s extensive database of 8 million on-field player impacts. This allows for real-time monitoring of player safety and helps identify areas that need improvement.

Taking customization to a new level, industry experts are now designing position-specific helmets to cater to the unique needs of individual players. For instance, a linebacker-focused helmet was tested in 2021, showcasing the potential for tailor-made equipment that considers the specific needs and playing styles of each position.

Through ongoing research and collaboration, the NFL and engineers continue to push the boundaries of helmet innovation in pursuit of safer protective equipment for players. These advancements not only benefit professional athletes but also have the potential to improve safety standards in the sport as a whole, from youth to collegiate levels.