A History of Football Safety


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Presented by AccidentAttorneys.org

Humans began crafting stone balls in Scotland more than 5,200 years ago. The Neolithic balls were about the size of a Pokéball, which is about the size of a racket ball.

The Ancient Aborigines, the Ancient Chinese, the Ancient Egyptians, the Ancient Mesoamericans…Basically everyone from everywhere balled.

Homer wrote about thrown-ball games in The Odyssey.

Some of the principles for Football started in Ancient Sparta as Sphairomachia or Sphere Battle.

Spairomachia was a full-contact team sport where a well-inflated ball was thrown across a lined field. Although, Romans were the first to use inflated balls.

In the 5th Century Mob Ball was played between villages. Possession of the ball was established through a scrum. Under these piles, men fought tooth and nail for the ball. It was a very dangerous game.

Fast forward about 1,500 years to Walter Camp, the Father of American Football.

The American Plains Wars had just ended & sport became the civilized contest for men to prove themselves in battle.

So in 1880 Walter Camp did the civilized thing and replaced the scrum with the “line of scrimmage.” Now, the team with the ball had uncontested possession and BOOM, American Football was born. But it was still a very dangerous game.

By 1905, there were “NINETEEN KILLED ON GRIDIRON”. Gridiron is a nickname for American Football fields became the lines are similar to old iron grills.

So President Theodore Roosevelt met with Walter Camp at the White House to discuss Football safety.

The President told Camp, “I believe in the game, I want to do all I can to save it.”

Later, in a letter to his son at Harvard, Teddy wrote: “I am delighted to have you play football. I believe in rough, manly sports. But I do not believe in them  if the degenerate in the sole end of any one’s existence.”

Roosevelt thought the game should “open up” and the next year the forward pass was legalized. As passing caught on (pun intended) the game spread out and injuries dropped. But it was still a very dangerous game.

So the equipment evolved and by 1920 (the same year the NFL was founded) leather helmets were worn by most professional players. Then in 1949 plastic helmets were required. By 1962 facemasks were worn by every player. Note: The Los Angeles Ram were the first team with a logo on their helmets.

Emboldened by the armor players began spearing and ramming with their heads. The led to 147 players deaths between 1970 and 1979. It was still a very dangerous game.

Football Continued to Change

  • 1982 – Concept of defenseless player added.
  • 1985 – QB’s can kneel or slide to stop play.
  • 1990 – A player who spears or rams can be ejected.
  • 1992 – Some chop blocks made illegal. (A chop block is a low block while the player is already being blocked.)
  • 1995 – Protections for defenseless players expanded.
  • 1996 – More chop blocks made illegal.
  • 1998 – Face shields must be transparent.

Death were reduced 74% 1990 through 1999.

2009 the NFL find evidence that football may cause early memory loss and dementia. 4,500 former players sue the NFL and in 2013 a settlement is reached for $765 million.

Yet today it is still America’s most popular sport. 36% of Americans watch the Super Bowl.

Top 10 Most-Watched Shows in United States Television History

  1. 114.4 Million – Super Bowl XLIX (Feb. 2015)
  2. 112.2. Million – Super Bowl XLVII (Feb. 2014)
  3. 111.3 Million – Super Bowl XLVI (Feb. 2012)
  4. 111.0 Million – Super Bowl XLV (Feb. 2011)
  5. 108.7 Million – Super Bowl XLVII (Feb. 2013)
  6. 106.5 Million – Super Bowl XLIV (Feb. 2010)
  7. 106.0 Million – M.A.S.H. Final (Feb. 1983)
  8. 100.0 Million – Roots: Part VIII (Jan. 1977)
  9. 98.7 Million – Super Bowl XLIII (Feb. 2009)
  10. 93.5 Million – Cheers: One for the Road (May 1993)

It is still a very dangerous game.

If you or your children choose to play the game of Football, please read this advice from The American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Officials and coaches must enforce the rules of proper tackling, including zero tolerance for illegal, head-first hits.
  • Players must decide whether the benefits of playing outweigh the risks of possible injury.
  • Non-tackling leagues should be expanded so athletes can choose to participate without the injury risks associated with tackling.
  • Skilled athletic trainers should be available on the sidelines, as evidence shows they can reduce the number of injuries for players.

This infographic is for informational purposes only. Consult a physician before performing any exercise. If you have been injured playing football or any other sport, seek medical attention immediately. If you have been injured by someone’s neglect, contact an attorney.

For more information on head injuries visit http://accidentattorneys.org/head-injuries.


Avatar About Troy Dunn

Troy Dunn is a published author, professional artist, award winning environmentalist, certified permaculture designer, bachelor of the arts, associate of the sciences, 501(c)3 creator, and altruistic entrepreneur/COO for Altrumedia.